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DREAMS . The category of dreams designates both sleeping and imaginal states of consciousness together with waking descriptions and other representations of these states. Sleeping consciousness includes healing dreams, prophetic dreams, archetypal dreams, nightmares, and lucid dreams. Imaginal consciousness includes guided fantasies known as waking dreams, omens, and visions.

Dreaming is both a sleeping and a waking experience that is activated whenever energy flows inward toward the spiritual and intellectual senses rather than outward toward the worldly and perceptual senses. When one falls into a trance or falls asleep, the worldly senses vanish inside, the everyday mind stops functioning, and one is sleeping. After a period of nothingness, the mind begins to function again, and dreaming begins. As this happens one slowly moves from private sensations, personal memories, images, and symbols to transpersonal imagining as an interactive social process.

The Cross-Cultural Study of Dreams

From the earliest times sleeping dreams and waking visions have been of considerable interest to humankind. Dream narratives have also been examined to learn how members of different cultures categorize and use their dreams. Some researchers have shown both the tactical use of dreams in social interaction and the cultural influences on dream content. Others have chosen not to focus their attention on dream narratives or social context but rather to use dreams to investigate psychological issues, such as personality and values.

Before Sigmund Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), scholars described dreams as the ultimate source of religious beliefs concerning the supernatural and the nature of the human soul. After Freud's book, many people followed him in separating the nature of the dream experience, or the "manifest dream," from the so-called real meaning of the experience, which he labeled the "latent dream." The manifest dream content is investigated with the help of a dreamer's associations to the key elements in the dream that are traced to the dreamer's hidden or latent thoughts, consisting of a combination of wishes and conflicts. The manifest dream contentthough often distorted, disguised, or presented in metaphorical formand the latent dream content are in turn linked to a distinction between two modes of thought: primary and secondary process. Primary process consists of nonlogical symbolic imagery, whereas secondary process is predominantly verbal and logical.

A number of researchers who were interested in the cross-cultural study of dreams utilized Freudian concepts and methodologies. Some, however, remained skeptical and tested the key hypotheses. Others ignored the approach altogether. Those who followed Freud's psychoanalytic theories and methods argued that similar latent contentsincluding incestuous family attachments, sibling rivalry, anxiety about maternal separation, and fear of castrationare revealed in dream reports gathered in vastly different cultures. The ethnographer Anthony Wallace (1958) even described the Iroquois of North America as having independently invented their own psychoanalytic techniques of dream interpretation.

Other researchers employed one or more of the following Freudian methodologies in working with dreams:

  1. eliciting associations to dream images as they are related,
  2. focusing on an element containing a metaphorical key to the meaning of the dream,
  3. asking for the previous day's events connected with the dream,
  4. allowing the subject to freely associate to the dream.

The ethnographer Dorothy Eggan (1966), for example, did not press her Hopi consultants for the previous day's residue or free associations but allowed them to take the initiative in dream telling and free association. The psychoanalyst Géza Róheim (1952), on the other hand, obtained associations from Australian Aborigines for each dream episode and elicited personal anecdotes, myths, and songs. Because he was focused on the infantile wish rather than on current conflicts, he suggested that an analyst need only be familiar with the simple factual knowledge required to follow the manifest narrative content of a dream.

The psychoanalytically trained ethnographer Waud Kracke (1979) disagreed with Róheim, noting that in order to understand what a person's dreams reveal about his or her personality it is necessary to learn the language of dreaming within that individual's culture. Researchers who use a psychoanalytic approach to dreams often combine it with an ethnographic approach to the culture in order to probe both the psychological and the cultural significance of dreams. Visionary or prophetic dreams, for example, often transform the psyche of the dreamer, and they may be a source of inspiration for the founding of new religions and charismatic movements as well as for triggering anticolonialist revolts. Would-be prophets commonly experience revelatory dreams that underlie both their personal access to charismatic power and their spiritual message. Examples include the origins of the Dream and Ghost Dances of Native North America as well as Melanesian cargo cults and Japanese new religions (Michelson, 1923; Burridge, 1960; Fabian, 1966; Worsley, 1968; Franck, 1975; Lanternari, 1975; Stephen, 1979).

Freud's hypothesis concerning type dreams states that the same manifest contentfor example, flying, climbing, or the loss of a toothreveals identical latent meanings across cultures. Charles Seligman (1923) tested this idea by publishing a request for British colonial officials and missionaries to send him records of native dreams. He believed that if type dreams of the Freudian sort were found frequently in this data base, then the human unconscious was qualitatively so alike worldwide that it constituted a common store on which fantasy might draw. His store metaphor points to the objectifying notion of dream symbolism as a simple trait that might be measured or weighed by colonial officials. It ignores the importance of communicative context both within these cultures and in the negotiation of reality between colonial administrators and indigenous peoples. This lack of sensitivity to the context and manner in which one conducts research is also true for the Navajo research of Jackson Steward Lincoln (1935). He ignored the influence of social setting on his own collection of dreams: transactions that took place at the Black Mountain Trading Post.

While Seligman and Lincoln found that similar sorts of dreams occurred worldwide, the Freudian premise that universal type dreams should mean the same thing everywhere they occurred was never tested empirically until Benjamin Kilborne (1978) asked a group of Moroccan dream interpreters to explain the meaning of a set of fifteen dreams he culled from Freud. Kilborne found that whereas Freud treated dream reports as analyzable structures requiring secondary associations before they could be adequately interpreted, Moroccans did not make an analyzable entity of either the dream or the context of interpretation. Thus in a woman's dream of a deep pit in a vineyard created when a tree was removed, which Freud used as a classic example of a female castration dream, Moroccan dream interpreters focused primarily on the pit, leaving out the tree, or else focused on the tree, leaving out the pit. In the first instance the pit was described as representing a trap for the dreamer, whereas in the second case the tree represented a good person who died. Whereas the Freudian explanation of dream symbols draws on the notion of universal latent content, the Moroccan explanation centers on the dreamer's social position.

Although most dream researchers chose the Freudian path of analysis, a few, including John Layard (1988), Vera Bührmann (1982), and Lawrence Petchkovsky (1984), followed Carl Jung. The sharpest disagreement between the Freudians and the Jungians centers on Freud's hypothesis that the manifest dream is simply a disguise of the latent dream that embodies an infantile erotic wish. Jung (1974) argued that images in dreams reflect the structure of psychological complexes in the personal unconscious that rest upon archetypal cores in the psyche and are subject to the individuating force of the self.

Dreaming encourages a variety of attitudes and responses: pragmatic, cognitive, and spiritual. The pragmatics of dreaming centers on the tactical use of dreams and visions in dream sharing, social interaction, and healing. A cognitive response focuses on expectations concerning the theoretical nature of dreaming and dream interpretation systems together with the languages of dream telling. Spiritual approaches to dreaming combine symbolic, mythic, and ritual elaborations of consciousness. Although these responses overlap, the following sections introduce them one after the other.

The Pragmatics of Dreaming

Deciding which dreams to share, how, and with whom are important issues. Informal dream telling upon awakening with members of one's immediate family is found in all societies. More formal public dream sharing, although it is far less common, also occurs in many places. However, the significance given to the act of dream sharing, whether formal or informal, varies markedly from one society to another. In some societies people place a high value on both the personal and the public use of the many forms of dreaming, including waking dreams, lucid dreams, visions, and nightmares. In other societies dreaming is regarded as insignificant and is given limited importance or even ignored. Epistemological differences between these attitudes toward dreaming are evident when people relate their life stories.

Many Amerindian societies, for example, honor dreaming and construct personal biographies around dreams and visions. The Lakota holy man Black Elk, when he first met his biographer John Neihardt (1932), immediately shared his power dreams with him. Likewise in Chile, when the Mapuche shaman Tomasa first met Lydia Degarrod (1990), she shared her power dreams and visions. In northern California and Oregon there were in the past, and in some cases there remain, organized schools of shamans in which novices shared their dreams with their teachers. After listening carefully to the novices' dreams, the teachers encouraged them to receive specific types of dreams or visions that allowed them to heal patients.

For Mayans in Mexico and Central America it is routine to awaken one's spouse or other sleeping partner in the middle of the night to narrate a dream (Tedlock, 1992, p. 120). Parents also ask their children each morning about their dreams. In most of these societies, even though there may be no recognized dream interpreters, dreams and dream interpretations of respected elders are taken seriously. Children's dreams, while they are always given the benefit of interpretation, have little effect on adult's actions. Other societies urge their children to experience and report certain types of culturally approved dreams and visions that help them to allay anxiety and bring them power and prestige. In yet other cultures parents carefully monitor their children's dream reports lest they begin receiving nightmares. If a youngster receives such dreams, the parents do what they can to alter them by taking the child into the mountains, where they ask that person's spirit to stay away.

The first issue in dream sharing is to categorize the dream as to its type: good or bad, lucky or unlucky. Once this has been decided, a dreamer chooses whether or not to tell the dream. This depends on a combination of personal preference and wider cultural patterns. At Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico, for example, the dreams that are immediately told are only those that are considered to be "bad," in that dead people appear and attempt to lure the dreamer to visit the Land of the Dead (Tedlock, 1992, p. 118). The way Zunis prevent the completion of such nightmares is to tell them while inhaling the fumes of a burning piñon branch, then to plant feathered prayer sticks for the ancestors asking them not to appear. If the dream is frightening, the dreamer may even ask for a ceremonial whipping at the hands of a masked ancestral figure. Such whippings remove the bad thoughts and turn them around, reversing their meaning. Good dreams, on the other hand, are not reported until they have been "completed," in other words until they have come true.

Among Quechua speakers in the Peruvian Andes, dreams are premonitory of the day's events (Mannheim, 1992, p. 145). If you experience a bad dream, when you get out of bed in the morning you should step on the left instead of on the right foot. Then before telling anyone your dream, you must find a young sheep or llama and recount the dream to the animal then spit in its mouth three times saying, "Disappear, disappear, disappear."

In China from the earliest times the nature of dreamswhether lucky or unluckywas considered to be determined by the spirits (Fang and Zhang, 2000). During the Zhou dynasty (c. 1150256 bce) the emperors practiced rituals to solicit lucky dreams and to avoid unlucky dreams. Texts containing charms to help one avoid bad dreams or turn them into good dreams were eventually written down. The New Collection Zhou Gong's Dream Interpretations (Tang dynasty, c. 618907 ce), for example, explains that those who have evil dreams should not tell anyone. When they rise in the morning they should instead write on a piece of paper "Red sunshine, the sun rises in the east." If they read this charm three times and place it under their beds, the ghosts will immediately flee.

After a dream is categorized, it can be enacted or interpreted in various ways. Jungians and certain other dream workers regard one's dream images as aspects of the self. Thus all of the symbols within a dream are "translated" into words upon waking and are shared later during an analytic session or dream-group meeting. During this period the dreamer, with the help of the analyst or facilitator, moves into the inner space of the dream and brings out or elaborates the dream events, often amplifying them through mythic or visual similarities, rhymes, or wordplays.

K'iche' Mayans handle their dreams in a similar but slightly different manner. Unlike Western dream enthusiasts, Mayans do not wait for the dream to end to integrate it. Instead they begin during the process of dreaming whenever an important mythic symbol appears. If they miss this opportunity, they wait for a later dream when the symbol recurs in a somewhat different form. At that time the dreamer awakens slightly, cognitively enters the dreamscape, and interrogates each and every symbol as it appears, one after the other, so that each reveals its true nature. This practice, called "completing the dreaming," is similar to both Dream Yoga and lucid dreaming.

Dreaming, Cognition, and Interpretation

The dichotomy between dreaming as an internal subjective reality and waking as an external objective reality, together with a devaluation of dreaming, is an inheritance from the ancient Greeks, most especially from Aristotle. He dismissed dreams as nothing but mental pictures that, like reflections in water, are not the real objects. This idea was elaborated at the end of the Middle Ages, when the notion of the person as having a soul or spirit that could temporarily leave the body during dreaming became heretical. Whereas dreaming was already devalued within the West by the time of the emergence of naturalistic or scientific thought, it was not until the development of Cartesian dualism in the seventeenth century that dreams were firmly placed within the realm of fantasy or irrational experience.

It must be remembered, however, that the irreducible dualism of "spirit" and "matter," which denies the common principle from which the terms of this duality proceed by a process of polarization, was a historical development within Western philosophy. A majority of the world's peoples have not focused their thinking around oppositionalism and thus have not isolated dreaming within the "unreal" realm of spirit. Rather, it is a rationalist proposition that dreaming is somehow a more subjective, false, private, illusory, or transient reality than the more objective, true, public, real, or permanent reality of waking life.

This difference in attitudes toward dreaming is demonstrated by a set of interchanges between Rarámuri Indians living in northern Mexico and the ethnographer William Merrill (1992). Merrill noted that he was frustrated when on numerous occasions people described to him incredible personal experiences but failed to mention that the events had taken place in dreams until he specifically asked. Another researcher living in a Tzeltal Mayan community in Chiapas, Mexico, noted that since dream events were deeply integrated into conscious behavior, it was often difficult for her to decide whether a person was referring to an actual occurrence or to a dream (Hermitte, 1964, p. 183). A third ethnographer who was editing a Tzotzil Mayan's life story reported that she found herself asking him over and over again whether a particular event he was describing occurred in conscious waking life or in a dream while he was sleeping (Guiteras Holmes, 1961, pp. 256257).

During fieldwork at Zuni Pueblo in western New Mexico, Barbara Tedlock sometimes found it difficult to tell whether a person was narrating a nighttime dream or a waking experience. When she asked a middle-aged man whether he ever had dreams that foretold the future, he answered: "Yes, awhile back a sheep herder found a dead rabbit, badly torn up, and he cooked and ate it. Later on the man was thrown from a burro, his foot caught in the stirrup, and he was dragged around in some rocks. When his partner found him, he was all tore up, dead" (Tedlock, 1973 field notes).

Instead of narrating one of his own dream experiences, this man related a waking omen. Thus although there are separate terms in the Zuni language to distinguish dreaming from the perception of omens, the fact that the rabbit was eaten in life rather than in a dream seemed to be a matter of indifference to the narrator. Either way, the incident of the rabbit portended the incident with the burro. This blending of waking omens and sleeping dream signs into a single category of premonitions is found more generally among Amerindians.

This remarkable creative potentiality of dreaming occurs because dreams are a way of thinking and of organizing knowledge. At some level all people believe this, as is revealed by the common saying "I'll have to sleep on that decision." At the same time people often profess the belief that dreams are meaningless fantasies or confused mental imaginings with little truth value. This ambivalence arises from the educational system that teaches that only fully conscious rational thoughts can provide true knowledge. Nevertheless people also believe that irrational, or better yet nonrational, unconscious thoughts or intuitions are a sign of "genius."

The Language of Dreaming

It has been suggested that dreaming is the original native tongue, a common language shared by all human beings. However, when discussing dreams, people often neglect the important fact that in any given society the language or languages spoken deeply affect the perception and narration of dreams. Both the structure of the language and its available vocabulary help to channel the imagination of dreamers. Thus within a number of languages, including French, Italian, K'iche' Mayan, and Xavante, the verb stem for dreaming is transitive, indicating that a dreamer acts upon or "makes" something while dreaming. In other languages, such as English, German, Spanish, Zuni, Kalapalo, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, the verb stem used to describe the process of dreaming is intransitive, indicating that dreaming is a passive state of being, that one simply "has" or "sees" a dream. This difference underscores the variable attention paid to dreaming as a passive observation by a dreamer and dreaming as an active experience of the dreamer's soul, psyche, or self.

In dream telling a dreamer's source of knowledge or authority as a narrator is also marked grammatically. Wherever dreaming is conceived as involving the actions of the soul rather than of the dreamer's ego, third-person singular forms are used. Epistemological concern with a dreamer's source of knowledge or authority is often marked grammatically. On the Northwest Coast of Canada Kwakiutl speakers use a suffix that indicates that the action of the verb occurred in a dream. There is also another suffix meaning apparently, seemingly, and it seems like as well as in a dream. Since these two suffixes include adverbial and conjunctional ideas possessing a strong subjective element, they are categorized as word suffixes and are placed in a single classification expressing the sources of subjective knowledge. As a grammatical category these suffixes indicating events known only indirectly have been classified by linguists as evidentials. There are several kinds of evidentialstense particles, adverbs, and quotativesthat require the speaker to adopt a particular stance toward the truth value of an utterance.

The use of evidentials demonstrates major epistemological differences among various traditions. In a number of cultures report forms consisting of verbs as well as particles indicate that the preceding or following utterance is an animation of the speech of a deity, ancestor, or other supernatural. In these examples there is no distinction, as there is in English, between direct discourse that is faithful to the wording and indirect discourse that is faithful to the meaning. Instead, for many peoples there appears to be an irreducible dialectic between linguistic structure, practice, and ideology. It also reveals the existence of separate dream interpretation codes for lay dreamers and professional dream interpreters within the same society. Only people who have been trained as dream interpreters use the quotative.

Psychologists of both psychoanalytic and cognitive bents have read anthropology to compare the dreams of preliterate, tribal, traditional, or peasant peoples with their own findings concerning the dreams of literate, urban, modern, or industrial peoples. This dichotomy, however, denies people living in other cultures contemporaneity with industrial peoples. Instead of using typological time to create and set off an object of study, such as "tribal dreaming," cultural anthropologists have become interested in intersubjective time in which all of the participants involved are coeval or share the same time. This focus on communicative processes among people living in the same time but in vastly different cultures demands that coevalness not only be created and maintained in the field but also that it is carried over during the write-up process. Robert Dentan (1986), while discussing the principle of contraries in which dreams indicate the opposite of what they seem, noted that practitioners of this type of dream interpretation include such widely separated peoples as Ashanti, Malays, Maori, Semai, Zulu, Polish American schoolgirls, and psychoanalysts. In other words Euro-Americans share this principle of dream interpretation with people living in faraway, exotic places.

This underlying sameness in human cognition is also stressed within structuralism. A structural approach to dreaming demonstrates that dreams, like myths, constitute a set of systematic transformations of a single structure consisting of a set of oppositions representing a dilemma or conflict facing a dreamer. Philippe Descola (1989), in research among Jivaroan people in South America, found that the individual unconscious and the collective unconscious are related less by contiguity or universal archetypes than by use of encoding devices for the diversity of reality within elementary systems of relationships. He noted that, like structualists, indigenous dream interpreters emphasize the logical operations through which symbols are connected and suggests that a comparative grammar of dreams is needed that might elucidate how various cultures choose and combine a set of rules or codes for dream interpretation.

The turn away from treating non-Western dreams as totally other, fully knowable objects to be gathered, analyzed, tabulated, and compared with Western dreams toward paying attention to the problematics of dream communication and interpretation worldwide has occurred within anthropology for several reasons. First, ethnographers came to distrust survey research in which "data" is gathered for the purpose of testing Western theories concerning universals in human psychology. Cross-cultural content analysis, in which statistical assertions about dream patterns within particular ethnic groups or genders were the goal, have been critiqued by anthropologists. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that sample surveys aggregate respondents who are deeply distrustful of the researcher with those who are not, as if suspicion made no difference whatsoever in the validity of their replies. Further, a comparativist focus on the extractable contents, underlying structure, or cognitive grammar of a dream report not only omits important phenomena, such as pacing, tones of voice, gestures, and audience responses, that accompany dream narrative performances but is also an expression of the culture of alphabetic literacy and thus is culture-bound.

Another reason for the abandonment of content analysis by most anthropologists is their formal training in linguistics, which encourages them to reject the basic assumption of aggregate statistical research, namely that meaning resides within single words rather than within their contexts. Furthermore dream symbols taken in isolation can be misleading if the researcher has not spent sufficient time observing and interacting within the culture in order to make sense of local knowledge and produce a "thick description" of that culture. Rather than interpreting the language of dream narratives in semantico-referential, context-independent terms, it is more appropriate to utilize context-dependent or pragmatic meaning.

Because of these considerations, researchers no longer set out to elicit dream reports as ethnographic objects to be used primarily as raw data for comparative hypotheses. Instead, since the attitudes toward and beliefs about dreams held by a people reveal important aspects of their worldviews, constructing a detailed ethnography of dreaming has become an important research goal. Ethnographers tape-record and transcribe verbatim dream narratives along with dreamers' interpretations. The method of ethnographic semantics, in which direct and formal questioning is used, may also be applied to ascertain how members of a particular linguistic group categorize their dreams. The goals of this methodology are to produce a taxonomic system of types of dreams, good, bad, true, false, and to reveal native dream theory and techniques of dream interpretation.

This combination of linguistic and ethnographic methodologies, applied within different domains, particularly suits contemporary cultural anthropology, which requires researchers to enter the field for extended periods of time with broad sets of research interests. By living in the community they learn the local language as well as how to interact appropriately, and they are present for various formal and informal social dramas. Sooner or later they are present when a dream is narrated within a family or to a practicing shaman or other dream interpreter. If this event attracts their attention, they make notes about it in their field journals, and they may later record other such occurrences on audio- or videotape. Once they have translated their texts, they may ask the narrator, who may or may not be the dreamer, questions about the meaning, significance, and use of the dream account.

This shift in research strategy from eliciting dozens of dreams as fixed objects to studying naturally occurring situations, such as dream sharing, representation, and interpretation, is part of a larger movement within the human sciences in which there has been a growing interest in analyses focused on practice, interaction, dialogue, experience, and performance together with the individual agents, actors, persons, selves, and subjects of all this activity. A number of new books in the human sciences display this shift from a focus on the dream as an object to the social context surrounding both the personal experience and cultural uses of dreaming (Dombeck, 1991; Parman, 1991; Jʾedrej and Shaw, 1992; Tedlock, 1992; Shulman and Stroumsa, 1999; Young, 1999; Lohmann, 2003).

Dream Sharing

Lydia Degarrod (1990) recorded the majority of her subjects' dreams within a natural setting rather than by arranging formal interviews. During her research in southern Chile with the Mapuche Indians, she gathered dreams and interpretations from members of two families who were coping with serious stress caused by witchcraft and illness. Through dream sharing and interpreting, the afflicted members of the families were able to express their anxieties and externalize their illness, and other family members were able to participate in the healing of their loved ones. Degarrod hypothesized that these types of family interventions were possible due to the general belief that dreams facilitate communication with supernatural beings and due to the nature of the communal dream sharing and interpreting system that allowed the combination of elements from different individual's dreams to be related through intertextual and contextual analysis.

During her research among Australian Aboriginal peoples, Sylvie Poirier (2003) found that dreaming was closely intertwined with religious beliefs. In Western Australia, for example, dreams represent the privileged space-time of increased receptivity among individuals, the environment, and the ancestral world. Through studying local epistemology, she found that not only was the interpretation of dreams open to multiple readings depending on context but that dream experience was also a primary step in the social construction of the person. This sensitivity to the crucial importance of the social and cultural context in understanding and interpreting dreams has been elaborated by historians of religion to include the integration of dream interpretation into the culture's ontological and semiotic maps and the further integration of dream theory into culturally specific notions of personality and economies of consciousness, so that dreaming can be seen in the context of metapsychology (Shulman and Stroumsa, 1999, p. 7).

By studying dream sharing and the transmission of dream theories in their full social contexts as communicative and integrative events, including the natural dialogical interactions that take place within these events, scholars have realized that both the researcher and those who are researched are engaged in the creation of a social reality that implicates both of them. Although ethnographers have long subscribed to the method of participant observation, it still comes as a shock when they discover how important their participation is in helping to create what they are studying. Gilbert Herdt (1992) reported his surprise at discovering the therapeutic dimension of his role in New Guinea as a sympathetic listener to his key consultant, who shared with him erotic dreams that the consultant could not communicate to anyone within his own society.

Likewise the importance of the psychodynamic process of transference, or the bringing of past experiences into a current situation with the result that the present is unconsciously experienced as though it were the past, has only recently been fully realized and described for anthropology. Waud Kracke (1979), during his fieldwork with the Kagwahiv Indians of Brazil, kept a diary containing his personal reactions, dreams, and associations. In an essay discussing these field responses, Kracke not only analyzed his personal transference of his own family relationships to certain key Kagwahiv individuals but also his cultural transference of American values to Kagwahiv behavior patterns.

The Spirituality of Dreaming

Throughout history humans have perceived the visible world of daily living as containing an invisible essence or world of the imagination that manifests in sacred places. This may be located above, below, behind, or alongside of the everyday waking world. Melanesians picture a magical underground mirror world, in Celtic myths the Otherworld lies somewhere in the west, entered through lakes or caves, and in Korean shamanism it lies just across a river from the everyday world. During dreaming, human spirits leave the body and wander in these mythic realms, meeting and engaging with other spirits.

Dreams are perceived as an experience of the shadow, spirit, or soul. As such they are fertile ground for reflection, spiritual growth, and prophecy. Insights derived from dreams have challenged people to deepen and refine their understandings of the sacred. The process of dreaming lies at the heart of shamanism and those religions such as Daoism and Buddhism that have long intermingled with shamanism.

In shamanic cultures dreams allow increased receptivity among persons, ancestors, animals, and indeed the entire natural world. The visible entities that surround onerocks, persons, animals, trees, leavesare crystallizations of conscious awareness. The invisible medium between such entities is a dreamlike realm from which all conscious forms emerge. In a number of traditions the rainbow is the outside edge of dreaming, a place where the invisible potentials become manifest, and flashes of lightning are discharges from the depth of dreaming. It is through the nightly experience of dreaming that shamans learn to connect themselves to the cosmos in order to gain knowledge and power.

This shamanic approach toward dreaming is highly developed in hunting-and-gathering societies. When a hunter falls asleep, the spirit detaches itself from the body, tracks and catches a prey animal. The following morning the awakened dreamer goes into the forest to the dream place and gets his or her prey. In far northern Canada hunters explain this ability to communicate with and influence animals as the spiritual practice of "deep hope." They envision this form of dreaming as learning how to untie or lay out a straight mental-spiritual path to the goal of getting meat. In yet another form of dream hunting a person develops an amorous dream alliance with a forest spirit who becomes his or her hunting guide. The spirit falls in love with the dreamer, visiting often in dreams, and enjoys intercourse with the dreamer. This intimate relationship eventually turns the dreamer into a successful hunter. A third type of dreaming involves spirit animals who visit hunters and "sing through them" while they are sleeping, granting them special songs that ensure their later success in hunting. These types of power dreams are sources of spiritual entities, such as divine partners or spouses, attending spirits, companion animals, co-essences, or spirit doubles.

Worldwide there is a close connection between dreaming and shamanic initiation. Essie Parrish, a famous Kashaya Pomo shaman from northern California, told Tedlock one of her earliest power dreams. She was eleven years old at the time she was selected to serve her people as a healing shaman.

As I lay asleep, a dream came to me. I heard a man singing way up in the sky. It was as if the singing entered deep into my chest, as if the song itself were singing in my voice box. Then it seemed as if I could see the man. After I awoke the song was singing in my voice box. Then I myself tried, tried to sing, and amazingly the song turned out to be beautiful. I have remembered it ever since. (Tedlock, 1972 speech to the New School)

In Myanmar (formerly Burma) a young woman dreamed repeatedly of a spirit suitor in human form. After sharing her dreams with her friends, she was encouraged by them to symbolically wed him. As an orchestra played, she performed a special dance and then entered a screened-off area where a group of women shamans waited. One of them moved a mirror back and forth in front of her face, hypnotizing her, while pressing another mirror against her back. A second woman shaman attached cotton strings to her ankles and wrists, placed a longer cord diagonally across her shoulders, and pierced her hair knot with a needle to which a cotton string was attached. As the young woman drifted into sleep, she became both the wife of the spirit and an initiated shaman. From this point onward she was not only in love with and loved by her spiritual spouse, but she also was able to transform herself into his spirit double through appropriate dress and dance gestures (Spiro, 1967, p. 322).

Within Buddhist nations, such as Myanmar, Mongolia, and Tibet, there are both clerical (written) and shamanic (oral) spiritual traditions. Whereas each accepts dreams as spiritually meaningful, the clerical tradition, in which dreaming is primarily used as an aid to achieving enlightenment, holds that dreams are examples of the empty and illusory nature of this world. In the shamanic tradition dreaming leads directly to the esoteric practice of Yoga or lucid dreaming, both of which involve cultivating and controlling one's dreams. Tibetan dream practice combines indigenous shamanic beliefs about the spiritual power of dreams with the Buddhist goal of enlightenment (Young, 1999).

Lucid Dreaming

Within many spiritual traditions the key moment of lucidity is described as the result of an interior dialogue or imaginal conversation between different parts of the self, psyche, or soul. The dreamer is simultaneously cognizant of being asleep and removed from the external world and of being awake and receptive to the inner world. At this crossover point between sleeping and waking there are often complex synesthesiasvisual, auditory, and tactileas the lucid dream emerges from the dream landscape. This new element, which interrupts the imagery and narrative flow of an ongoing dream, fuses dreamer to dreamscape in such a way that it may be experienced as fearful or joyful.

Several methods for achieving lucidity while dreaming are described in the autobiography of the well-known Cahuilla shaman Ruby Modesto (Modesto and Mount, 1980). This remarkable woman spent her adult life as an herb doctor, spiritual healer, and midwife within her home community outside Palm Springs. She explained that directing the course of dreaming, or what is called in her tradition "setting up dreaming," was the most important spiritual practice within her culture. It had been actively sought, used, and taught for generations by shamanic healers.

Dreams and Prophecy

In monotheistic religions, such as Judaism and Christianity, dreaming is closely related to prophetic traditions. The prophet Muammad was chosen for his mission late in his life, when the angel Gabriel appeared to him in a dream. The Old Testament records the prophetic dreams of Joseph, the son of Jacob (Gn. 37:511), and in the New Testament both the Magi and Mary's husband Joseph are warned in dreams to beware of King Herod. The Magi are warned to return to their country by another route, whereas Joseph is told "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him" (Mt. 2:13).

A widespread type of prophetic dream is the conception dream that parents experience shortly before the birth of extraordinary children. Stories about the birth of Christian and Muslim saints contain many such dreams, which are believed to be signs of divine involvement, sometimes even actual divine fathering. For example, Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus, received a dream in which an angel appeared to him saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit" (Mt. 1:2021). This dream proclaims Jesus' divine origin and encourages Joseph to accept Mary's child as the son of God.

Women also have conception dreams. According to Korean Daoist beliefs, whenever heavenly spirits and those of a woman's body join together and crystallize to make a baby, a dream emerges. One night a Korean woman dreamed that she was bathing in a stream all alone in the moonlight. "I saw a red pepper floating around me. Without thinking, I picked it out of the water, and woke up. Ten months later I had a gentle, though obstinate, boy" (Seligson, 1989, p. 15). In the West during the Middle Ages a pregnant woman's dream was recorded in an eleventh-century text, The Life of Saint Thierry. The future mother of Thierry was disturbed by her dreams and consulted a woman renowned for her gift of interpreting dreams.

She confided her vision, first begging [the woman] to pray for her, so that the vision would not forecast for her an unnatural event, and then begging her to tell her the meaning of the vision. After praying, invested with prophetic grace, [the dream interpreter] said: "Have faith, woman, since what you have seen is a vision coming from God." (Schmitt, 1999, p. 277)

Conception dreams can also be experienced by a fetus while still inside its mother's womb. Desert-dwelling Yuman speakers in the American Southwest remember their earliest dreams from the time they are within their mothers' wombs (Kroeber, 1957). These unborn souls are said to journey to a sacred mountain, where their deceased elders give them special spiritual powers. After the baby is born, he or she totally forgets this prenatal journey, but dreams of the mountain reappear during adolescence. In these traditions all songs, myths, good fortune, and in fact all knowledge itself is derived from dreams. Thus the Mohave and other Yumans are said to interpret their culture in terms of their dreams, rather than their dreams in terms of their culture.

Robert Desjarlais (1991), during his fieldwork in Nepal with the Yolmo Sherpa, noted a large degree of agreement among individuals concerning the meaning of dream imagery and found an implicit dictionary of dream symbolism that individuals relied upon most frequently in times of physical or spiritual distress. In this dream interpretation system the experience of dreaming is believed to have a close, even causal connection with the future life of the dreamer. This principle is also found in many other cultures. However, such interpretations are often provisional. Not all people in a given society place their faith in them, and in some societies only certain individuals are believed to be able to experience prophetic or precognitive dreams. Researchers who have undertaken substantial fieldwork within American society have found that middle-class dreamers also admit to having experienced dreams of the prophetic or precognitive sort in which they obtain information about future events. The Western conception of dreams as predictors of misfortune or success, together with the anecdotal literature on "psychic dreams," indicates that this form of dream interpretation is far from rare in Western societies.

Labeling certain dream experiences prophetic or precognitive, however, does not explain how these and other dream experiences are used within a society. In order to learn about the use of dreaming, researchers cannot simply gather examples of different types of dreams by administering a questionnaire but must interact intensively with local populations for long periods of time. Thus whereas Desjarlais discovered an implicit metaphorical dictionary of dream symbolism among the Sherpa early in his fieldwork, it took him some time as an apprentice shaman to learn the precise way these dream symbols served as symptoms and signifiers both shaping and reflecting distress.

Among the Navajo of the American Southwest and the Maya of Guatemala, as people age their dreams become more and more continuous with waking life, predicting, causing, or expressing events in the world. As a result they no longer clearly distinguish what they discover in dreams from what they learn through direct sensory experience or from other people. Elders sometimes even manipulate their dream narratives to blur the distinction between the present and the mythological past.

Myths and Dreams

Whereas dreams have been described as private, highly fluid experiences and myths as public, fixed linguistic forms, they are actually closely related. Both myths and dreams have a story line that is expressive of an inner emotional-aesthetic structure together with an imagistic, metaphor-rich tapestry of spiritual feeling. Links between dream portents and the events they predict are often made by way of myths. Examples include Daoist practices in ancient China as well as those of contemporary peoples living in the Amazon Basin in Brazil.

For Daoists the appearance of a peach in a dream was an extremely favorable omen, because the Queen Mother of the West loved peaches and invited her favorites to partake of them in order to acquire immortality (Fang and Zhang, 2000). In the Amazon Basin to dream of an armadillo smoked out of his burrow indicates that a kinsman will die, because in a myth a man lures his brother-in-law into an armadillo's home and tries to kill him there (Reid, 1978). On the other hand, to dream of either leaf-cutter ants or a white-lipped peccary entering the house indicates that the person will be killed. This is based on a set of myths in which twin heroes kill their grandmother by transforming leaf-cutter ants into poisonous spiders then create and destroy white-lipped peccaries with thunder sticks (Reid, 1978).

As processes dreams and myths are inversions of one another. Whereas dreams move from sensory imagery to verbal form, myths move from language to sensory imagery. Thus among the Sharanahua of eastern Peru, when shamans elicit dream reports from their patients, they typically consist of single images, such as "peccary" or the "sun," that simultaneously echo myths and overlap with the shamans' categories of songs and symptoms. These thoughts may be shared through "representation" by talking about, drawing, painting, or describing a dream or through "presentation" by reenacting the dream in poetry, song, and dance.

In representational symbolism intentional reference is paramount, the medium of expression is relatively automatic, and inductive reality is paramount. In presentational symbolism meaning emerges as a result of an experiential immersion in the emotional patterns of the dream that is grasped intuitively. Dream workers of various kindsprophets, gurus, shamans, theologians, and psychoanalystsuse a combination of these techniques to help dreamers engage with the image-filled mythic world of dreaming. It has been noted by healers that in many cultures dramatizations of dreams are a highly effective treatment for disoriented and alienated persons. The psychiatrist Wolfgang Jilek (1982) observed that Northwest Coast shamans who encouraged their clients to perform their dreaming in public are 80 percent effective in healing, compared with the 30 percent effective rate for psychiatrists using the private representational techniques favored by depth psychology.

Some Western dream workers have independently come to a similar conclusion about the presentational power of dreaming. They have noted that because dreams involve an imagistic healing process, it is best if the cogitating mind stays out of the process. Consequently many of them no longer interpret dreams but instead focus on reenacting and reexperiencing the feelings and images of the dream as fully as possible. Others take the position that the healing power of dreaming requires both experiencing, for energy, and interpretation, for meaning.

See Also

Asklepios; Consciousness, States of; Visions.


Black Elk. Black Elk Speaks. As told to John G. Neihardt. New York, 1932.

Bührmann, M. Vera. "The Xhosa Healers of Southern Africa: A Family Therapy Session with a Dream as Central Content." Journal of Analytical Psychology 27 (1982): 4157.

Bulkeley, Kelly. The Wilderness of Dreams: Exploring the Religious Meanings of Dreams in Modern Western Culture. Albany, N.Y., 1994. A thoughtful evaluation of the major modern approaches to the study of dreams.

Burridge, Kenelm. Mambu: A Melanesian Millennium. London, 1960.

Crapanzano, Vincent. "Text, Transference, and Indexicality." Ethos 9 (1981): 122148.

Degarrod, Lydia N. "Coping with Stress: Dream Interpretation in the Mapuche Family." Psychiatric Journal of the University of Ottawa 15 (1990): 111116.

Dentan, Robert K. "Ethnographic Considerations in the Cross-Cultural Study of Dreaming." In Sleep and Dreams, edited by Jayne Gackenbach, pp. 317358. New York, 1986.

Descola, Philippe. "Head-Shrinkers versus Shrinks: Jivaroan Dream Analysis." Man 24 (1989): 3945.

Desjarlais, Robert. "Dreams, Divination, and Yolmo Ways of Knowing." Dreaming 1 (1991): 211224.

Dombeck, Mary-Therese. Dreams and Professional Personhood. Albany, N.Y., 1991.

Eggan, Dorothy. "Hopi Dreams in Cultural Perspective." In The Dream and Human Societies, edited by G. E. von Grunebaum and Roger Caillois, pp. 237266. Berkeley, Calif., 1966.

Fabian, Johannes. "Dream and Charisma: 'Theories of Dreams' in the Jamaa-Movement (Congo)." Anthropos 61 (1966): 544560.

Fang Jing Pei, and Zhang Juwen. The Interpretation of Dreams in Chinese Culture. New York, 2000.

Franck, Frederick. An Encounter with Oomoto: "The Great Origin." West Nyack, N.Y., 1975. The story of the founding of a new religion based on a woman shaman's dreams.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. In Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London, 1900.

Grunebaum, G. E. von, and Roger Caillois, eds. The Dream and Human Societies. Berkeley, Calif., 1966. A wide-ranging analysis of dreams within various cultures. The focus, however, is not the culture or religion-specific perception of dreams but rather the observation that the modern age seems to have less need of dreams.

Guiteras Holmes, Calixta. Perils of the Soul: The World View of a Tzotzil Indian. New York, 1961.

Herdt, Gilbert. "Selfhood and Discourse in Sambia Dream Sharing." In Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations, edited by Barbara Tedlock, pp. 5585. Santa Fe, N.Mex., 1992.

Hermitte, M. Esther. Supernatural Power and Social Control in a Modern Mayan Village. Chicago, 1964.

Hunt, Harry T. The Multiplicity of Dreams: Memory, Imagination, and Consciousness. New Haven, Conn., 1989. Hunt challenges prior theories based on the characteristics of a single type of dream and develops a cognitive psychological understanding of the visual-spatial imagery that generates the various dream types.

Jʾedrej, M. C., and Rosalind Shaw, eds. Dreaming, Religion, and Society in Africa. Leiden, 1992.

Jilek, Wolfgang G. Indian Healing: Shamanic Ceremonialism in the Pacific Northwest Today. Surrey, British Columbia, 1982.

Jung, Carl. Dreams. Extracted from vols. 4, 8, 12, and 16 of The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Princeton, N.J., 1974.

Kilborne, Benjamin. Interprétations du rêve au Maroc. Grenoble, France, 1978. An extended comparison of Freudian with Moroccan dream interpretation practices.

Kracke, Waud. "Dreaming in Kagwahiv: Dream Beliefs and Their Psychic Uses in an Amazonian Culture." Psychoanalytic Study of Society 8 (1979): 119171.

Kroeber, Alfred. "Mohave Clairvoyance: Ethnographic Interpretations." University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 47 (1957): 230239.

Lanternari, Vittorio. "Dreams as Charismatic Significants: Their Bearing on the Rise of New Religious Movements." In Psychological Anthropology, edited by Thomas R. Williams, pp. 221235. The Hague, 1975.

Layard, John. The Lady of the Hare: A Study in the Healing Power of Dreams. Boston, 1988.

Lincoln, Jackson Steward. The Dream in Primitive Cultures. London, 1935. A comparative study of the cultural uses and functions of dreams in various Native American societies.

Lohmann, Roger Ivar, ed. Dream Travelers: Sleep Experiences and Culture in the Western Pacific. New York, 2003.

Mannheim, Bruce. "A Semiotic of Andean Dreams." In Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations, edited by Barbara Tedlock, pp. 132153. Santa Fe, N.Mex., 1992.

Merrill, William. "The Rarámuri Stereotype of Dreams." In Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations, edited by Barbara Tedlock, pp. 194219. Santa Fe, N.Mex., 1992.

Michelson, Truman. "On the Origin of the So-Called Dream Dance of the Central Algonkians." American Anthropologist 25 (1923): 277278.

Miller, Patricia Cox. Dreams in Late Antiquity: Studies in the Imagination of a Culture. Princeton, 1994.

Modesto, Ruby, and Guy Mount. Not for Innocent Ears: Spiritual Traditions of a Desert Cahuilla Medicine Woman. Angelus Oaks, Calif., 1980.

Parman, Susan. Dream and Culture: An Anthropological Study of the Western Intellectual Tradition. New York, 1991.

Petchkovsky, Lawrence. "A Jungian Commentary on the 'Ordinar' Dreams of the Yolngu." Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 18 (1984): 245249.

Poirier, Sylvie. "This Is Good Country: We Are Good Dreamers." In Dream Travelers: Sleep Experiences and Culture in the Western Pacific, edited by Roger Ivar Lohmann, pp. 196229. New York, 2003.

Reid, Howard. "Dreams and Their Interpretation among the Hupdu Maku Indians of Brazil." Cambridge Anthropology 4 (1978): 128.

Róheim, Géza. The Gates of the Dream. New York, 1952. A compendium of central Australian dream reports together with Freudian analysis.

Schmitt, Jean-Claude. "The Liminality and Centrality of Dreams in the Medieval West." In Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative History of Dreaming, edited by David Shulman and Guy G. Stroumsa, pp. 274287. New York, 1999.

Seligman, Charles G. "Type Dreams: A Request." Folklore 34 (1923): 376378.

Seligman, Charles G. "Anthropology and Psychology: A Study of Some Points of Contact." Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 54 (1924): 1346.

Seligson, Fred Jeremy. Oriental Birth Dreams. Elizabeth, N.J., 1989.

Shulman, David, and Guy G. Stroumsa, eds. Dream Cultures: Explorations in the Comparative History of Dreaming. New York, 1999. An important source for readers interested in the intersection of dreams, religion, and culture. The essays center on dreams as witnessed, transmitted linguistically, and framed as texts.

Spiro, Melford E. Burmese Supernaturalism. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1967.

Stephen, Michele. "Dreams of Change: The Innovative Role of Altered States of Consciousness in Traditional Melanesian Religion." Oceania 50 (1979): 322.

Tedlock, Barbara, ed. Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations. Santa Fe, N.Mex., 1992. Essays centering on the communicative context of dream sharing and interpretation.

Tedlock, Barbara. The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine. New York, forthcoming. A review and reevaluation of the important role of women as shamans, dream interpreters, and healers in many cultures worldwide.

Wallace, Anthony F. C. "Dreams and Wishes of the Soul: A Type of Psychoanalytic Theory among the Seventeenth Century Iroquois." American Anthropologist 60 (1958): 234248.

Worsley, Peter. The Trumpet Shall Sound: A Study of "Cargo" Cults in Melanesia. London, 1968.

Young, Serinity. Dreaming in the Lotus: Buddhist Dream Narrative, Imagery, and Practice. Boston, 1999.

Barbara Tedlock (1987 and 2005)


views updated May 17 2018


It is midnight in the desert, and the full moon has just passed its apex. On the sandy ground, staff in hand, guitar and jug by his side, a dark-skinned man is nuzzled by a tawny-maned lion. Is the man dreaming? Are we? Or is this the dream of the artist, Henri Rousseau (18441910)? If, as some traditions have it, the Universe was dreamed into existence by its Creator, then it makes perfect sense that all of artthe microcosm created by human beings in emulation of the Creator's macrocosmis a dream of sorts. And art is a dream, in a waya projection of the deepest subconscious and unconscious desires upon canvas and stone, the etching plate and the loom. But when artists depict dreams and dreaming, whether explicitly, with the dreamer in the picture, or implicitly, with the picture illustrating the dream, ambiguities flourish, and polyvalency abounds.

There are many loci classici of the dream in art, in many times, places, and cultures. Some are explicit, yet ambiguous, like Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy of 1897. Some are explicit and distinctly unambiguous, such as Francisco Goya's (17461826) Capricho 43: El Sueno de la Razon Produce Monstruos (17971798, "The Sleep/Dream of Reason Begets Monsters") or Henry Fuseli's (17411825) The Nightmare (1781) where dreams are made manifest in oil on canvas. Even those depictions in which the intention to depict a dream is overt are fraught with a multiplicity of interpretive possibilitiesMaurice Sendak's (b. 1928) nightmare creatures in Where the Wild Things Are (1963) are both the products of the dreams of Max, the young protagonist, and of Sendak's own family history, wherein those things that go bump in the night are stand-ins for his loud, invasive, cheek-pinching aunts and uncles.


Just as Max creates a world in his dream, Krishna acts out the role of Vishnu in his sleep, and the universe is created out of the navel of the dreaming god. The individual adept, like the artist, assumes the role of conscious creator. Dreams have been represented in art for thousands of years. The Talmud describes sleep as "one-sixtieth part of death," one part in sixty being the threshold of perception for Jewish legal purposesa taste, in other words, of what death is like. Likewise did the ancient Egyptians consider sleep a sort of preliminary glimpse of death, and in dreams, certain aspects of what one would call the soul encountered the upper and lower realms. The lessons thus learned were transmitted by the forces of the other world to the priests of the cult of the dead, who could then advise the dead about the pitfalls and pratfalls of the journey before them. The Ba, the spiritual entity that was believed to leave the body both in dreams and in death, is represented as a jabiru bird in art, whether in reliefs or in papyri. It is depicted hovering over the inert body as it is in the famous Scroll of Ani of the Theban Book of the Dead (c. 1250 b.c.e.).

The Egyptians also evoked the topos of the dream in art in the representation of Bes, god of crossroads and transitions, on the headrests they used as pillows. And the great Sphinx of Giza is among the earliest artworks attributable to a dream, that of Pharaoh Tutmosis IV, who either constructed orsome sources sayuncovered or rediscovered the colossus around 2620 b.c.e. on the basis of a night vision.

Some of the loveliest depictions of sleep and dreams come out of the Hellenistic-Roman world. In Greek mythology, Nyx (Night) gives birth to Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death). The god of dreams is Morpheus, whose symbols are a smoking horn and a staff, symbols respectively of false and true dreams. Morpheus is not often represented in art, but Hypnos is, quite often and quite beautifully. He receives a melancholically sensitive treatment in a Roman copy of a lost Bronze statue of the fourth century b.c.e., which simply depicts a winged, sleeping, boyish head. And on the famous and controversial Euphronius (flourished c. 520470 b.c.e.) krater (Greece, 520510 b.c.e.), a winged Hypnos is paired with his twin brother Thanatos, gently bearing Sarpedon to his eternal sleep.

The Bible in the Middle Ages

In the biblical tradition, sleep is rarely personified, but dreams bear great significance as prophetic moments, or as the means of connection between the divine and the earthly realms. Thus, occasions arise in art not to depict images that are "dream-like," or that one may imagine represent the artists' dreams, but that, rather, explicitly represent dreams as described in the text of the bible. Most often, these depictions include the dreamer, with the dream itself in a realm slightly above and beyond. In both Jewish and Christian art from late antiquity through the Renaissance, the biblical dreams of the Patriarchs Jacob and Joseph, the Egyptian Pharoah, and of King Nebuchadnezzar are favorite subjects for depiction. The New Testament and, particularly, its apochrypha introduce the subjects of the dreams of Joseph the husband of Mary, those of Three Magi, and that of Pilate's wife. The dreams are depicted sometimes simply, sometimes with elaboration, but the fact that the viewer recognizes that these are crucial prophetic turning points in the story make them ever powerful.

While many of the illustrations, illuminations, and carvings depicting these subjects are anonymous, biblical and apocryphal dreams were treated by artists known to history, such as Simone dei Crocifissi (13301399), whose "Dream of the Virgin" heralded an interest in this topos in Italian painting of the fourteenth century, and Piero Della Francesca's (14151492) quiet and lyrical depiction of Constantine's Dream as part of the fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross in the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy (c. 14571458). Night scenes are notoriously difficult to depict, yet the artists, through the simple devices of positioning and composition, manage to convey a supernal and pervasive sense of quietness, calm, and sacred anticipation.

Saints and Holy People, East and West

Depictions of prophetic dreams or dreams that advance the narrative of a sacred tale or myth are not limited to the biblical realmsaints and holy people of all religious traditions are depicted in art. Vittore Carpaccio's (c. 1455c. 1525) lyrical Dream of St. Ursula (Italy, early sixteenth century) is devoted mostly to a depiction of the saint asleep in bed, with a rather self-effacing angel as the only evidence that we are witnessing a dream. Again, a modesty, a sense of calm permeates the composition. In Asian art, one can view depictions of the dream of Maya, the Buddah's future mother, in which, wakeful, she sees the white elephant that symbolizes her son's birth. The Indian Bhagavata Purana of the nineteenth century describes a spontaneous out-of-body experience, a dream flight by a woman named Usha, from which she returned with verifiable information. Her flight is depicted in illuminated manuscripts with a jewel-like clarity that parallels the clarity of her vision. And in Muslim iconography, Muhammad's nighttime conversations with the angel Gabriel show the prophet awake but in his bed, engaged in a rather static conversation (Iran, fifteenth century). By way of contrast, the beautiful iconography of the famous Night Journey tends to show Muhammad in actionon his mount al-Buraq, speeding through the clouds and accompanied by angels and celestial beings.

While we like to think of dreams as spontaneous, it has long been known that they can be incubated or induced, and from antiquity through the modern period, sacred sites were used as loci of incubation. In the East and in the West, temples and churches dedicated to various deities and saints were places whose architecture and geographical disposition were believed to be conducive to dream incubation, and where believers retreated, prepared themselves, and received their visionary experiences. The total environment of these placesas enhanced by art, among other factorswas key in terms of the potential success of the visionary process.

And when dreams do come, they could advocate reconsideration of even those aspects of the culture most taken for grantedthe appearance of the gods. Like the dream that gave birth to the sphinx, dreams can often be the cause of the creation of new iconography or the alteration of existing iconographic conventions, as they represent the direct intervention of the higher powers through the realm of vision. Although part of a strictly aniconic culture when it came to the depiction of the deity, the visions of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, though both glimpses of the God of Israel, presented radically different "images" of that imageless deity that influenced the way those in the West envision God. Likewise, Kan Hiu, a Chinese Buddhist monk who was also a painter and a poet in the late ninth and early tenth century, was able to radically change conventional portrayals of the Buddhist saints through the inspiration of dreams. The way in which he envisioned these people was sometimes at odds with historical tradition as transmitted by the mainstream, but his vision was so compelling that the tradition changed to accommodate it. And in the same way, the visions of St. Bridget of Sweden (c. 13031373) completely altered the view of the Nativity for Christianity. The snowy landscape, the broken manger, the many details of the story as it is commonly depicted are responses to her dream.

Finally, inspiration and even instruction in art is attributed to dreams. William Blake (17571827) claimed he was instructed in painting by a spirit who appeared in his dreams in the form of a man, and whom he depicted in a lost sketch (copied, fortunately, by a friend around 1819).

Native and Tribal Societies

The dream as a time out of time, depicted from the perspective of a soul out of body, is an important topos in native and tribal cultures. The native peoples of what is now Australia imagined the Dreamtimean era in which humans and nature came to be as they are now. They created churinga, magical depictions, tracings, or maps of Dreamtime events seen from the point of view of the spiritual essence of the individual, that part of the self that exists outside of time. These are similar to maps made by shamans in a number of culturesboth in the northern and southern hemispheres and over the historical longue durée depicting their dream journeys.

In native and tribal society, the active dreamthe one that the dreamer calls down upon him or herself and in which he or she is a conscious participantis an important factor in religious and spiritual life, and art and adornment help create the atmosphere in which such dreams may be invoked. An Arapaho dress, made in Oklahoma around 1890, situates the dreamer at the conjunction of various symbols that make it clear that she is on the threshold between light and darkness, between the spirit and the material worlds.

Iroquois people danced in cornhusk masks in order to help recall forgotten dreams, since these were believed to be windows on the soul. The masks, with their hungry, haunted, and longing looks, were meant to symbolize the psychological state of the dreamers seeking to remember their dream-desires and enact them in order to fulfill the hunger of their souls.

Dreams as Symbolic and Spiritual

Sleep and dreams in art can also take on symbolic and what one would term psychological valences, what would have been called at the times and places of the creation of the art stages or stations in the spiritual journey. The story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus was current in the sixth century and remained popular in both East and West throughout the Middle Ages. Paintings of this theme based in the Sufi tradition depict the seven sleepers as seven stages of human personality and its awakening into full development. Likewise, in some Arab and Muslim traditions, five sleeping, dreaming, and waking figures may represent the five organs of spiritual perception into the care of which one is delivered after regaining consciousness in sleep. The dream as a nexus for the quest for love and knowledge is vividly illustrated in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), an erudite, enigmatic, and beautifully illustrated example of the book arts of the Renaissance that depicts the dream of the protagonist Poliphilo in his quest for his beloved Polia (Greek for "many things"). And the waking of the self from the dream is drawn in parallel with the alchemical process of the refinement of metals in the woodcuts of Giovanni Battista Nazari's (15331599) Della Transmutatione Metallica, sogni tre (Brescia, 1599).

Dreams and the Visionary: Fifteenth
to Eighteenth Centuries

The late medieval and early modern periods saw the triumph of the visionary in art. While not illustrations of dreams or dreamers per se, the work of this period, including the phantasms of Hieronymous Bosch (c. 14501516), Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 15251569), and others, first in large-scale commissions and later in more popular prints, brought the realm of the dream-like and highly imaginative to a growing audience, taking the visionary beyond the confines of the physical building of the church, and into the street. Popular series, some anonymous, some attributable to artists like Jean Duvet (14851561), include prints illustrating visions of heaven and hell and of the apocalypse.

The rise of popular interest in the natural worldparticularly in alchemygave rise to a host of fantastic images in alchemical works of the seventeenth century illustrated by Theodor de Bry (15281598) and others. Baroque art transformed the quotidian into the phantasmagoric, and as such, can also be viewed as dreamlike in its elaboration and imaginative ornamentation. But however dreamlike the imagery, less emphasis is ultimately placed in this period on dreams and the dreameron imaginative phenomena occurring outside the range of perceivable reality and natureand more attention is devoted to the overriding interest in the ingenious exposition of the natural in fanciful ways.

Psychoanalysis, the Dream, and Art in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The nineteenth century heralded a revolution in the understanding of the dream, with Sigmund Freud (18361939) and Carl Jung (18751961) engaging very different interpretations of what both agreed was a phenomenon highly significant for the understanding of the farthest reaches of the human subconscious. Freud argued that dreams revealed the most occluded aspects of the individual unconscious, particularly the realm of sublimated sexual desire, the universal constant of the human condition. Jung saw the dream as tapping into the universal consciousness of humankind, and containing symbols that permeate all human cultures, ultimately uniting humans in what he argued was a more elevated universal and common bond than Freud's lowest common denominator. Art since the nineteenth century has blended these two currents, with most manifestations depicting the dream experience from the perspective of the individual (one sees the dream but not the dreamer), displaying a pervasive sexuality (whether implicit or explicit), and drawing upon the rich symbolic treasury of the entire history of world art. Consciousness of the importance of the dream experience for and in art has resulted in the creation of dream realms that are awe-inspiring, fascinating, and quite often frightening. Salvador Dali (19041989) and René Magritte (18981967) both play with the idea of the elasticity of time and perspective in the dream, while Giorgio De Chirico's (18881978) dream-scapes have to do with the bending of space. Paul Delvaux's (18971994) dreamlike scenes are simultaneously sexual and menacing, whereas Marc Chagall's (18871985) work is playful, blending the quotidian and the bizarre in a lush, colorful, and romantic synthesis that is instantly recognizable as "dreamlike." Max Ernst's (18911976) overlapping and repeated imagesrecognizable, yet juxtaposed incongruously, Paul Klee's (18791940) often extremely playful and "light" images that yet conceal a highly intellectual subtext, Rousseau's lush forests and spare deserts of the imagination, and the elemental power of Constantin Brancusi's (18761957) visions of flight (a common element in dreams) are but a few manifestations of the dream in twentieth century art.

The dream is a particularly widespread theme in film and photography. From Edwin Porter's (19691941) early short films, notably An Artist's Dream (1900) and Dream of a RarebitFiend (1906), to the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's (18991980) Vertigo (1958), Akira Kurosawa's (19101998) Dreams (1990), and the vivid dream landscapes of Ingmar Bergman's (b. 1918) Wild Strawberries (1957) and Federico Fellini's (19201993) 8 1/2 (1963), the very nature of film has proved fertile ground for the exposition of dreams through the varying lenses of each director. The deceptive realism of film provides an excellent foil for the recounting of dreams through the eyes of the dreamer.

Contemporary Art

Contemporary art is so much enamored of the idea of the dream that one would be hard-pressed to name an artist in the postwar era who did not engage the subject on some level. The work or stages in the work of some artists revolves around dreams. African and African-American artists such as Olu Amoda (b. 1959), in his Window of Dreams (1991), and Jacob Lawrence (19172000), with his Dreams #2 (1965), have engaged the dream as a metaphor in particularly poignant and affecting ways.

Though photography is a static medium, it is like film in that it is self-conscious about giving the appearance of replicating reality while never actually and completely doing so. Jerry Uelsman's (b. 1934) untitled images with dream themes owe their sensibility to the painted dreamscapes of the nineteenth century, while works like Ralph Gibson's (b. 1939) Sonambulist Series (1968), with its creepy hand reaching out of a doorway, draw on the fearful depths of human consciousness, known to the ancients, filtered through Freud and Jung, and always lurking under the surface.

Yet the dark and menacing vision, as eternal and pervasive as it is, is matched by an equally pervasive transcendent mythic consciousness. Contemporary photographers Suzanne Scherer (b. 1964) and Pavel Ouporov (b. 1966), in their preoccupation with the dream, draw on such mythic archetypes as a dream maze replete with minotaur, and an Icarus-like flying dreamer, a topos they share with contemporary artists, notably Jonathan Borofsky (b. 1942) in his series titled I dreamed I could fly. These works articulate and draw upon common dream themes in all times and places, from Muhammad's flight to Usha's, to the launching of the very universe from Krishna's dream.

See also Consciousness ; Mind ; Psychoanalysis ; Surrealism .


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Campbell, Joseph, ed. Myths, Dreams, and Religion. New York: Dutton, 1970.

Coxhead, David, and Susan Hiller. Dreams: Visions of the Night. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.

Devereux, George, ed. Psychoanalysis and the Occult. New York: International Universities Press, 1973.

Freud, Sigmund. On Dreams. Vols. 4 and 5. Translated from the German under the general editorship of James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1953. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud.

Gamwell, Lynn, ed. Dreams 19002000: Science, Art, and the Unconscious Mind. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000.

Jung, Carl Gustav. Dreams. Translated by R. F. C. Hull. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Marc Michael Epstein


views updated May 11 2018


Whether in ancient or in contemporary times, dreams are a mystery of the mind that everyone has experienced. Quite likely, most individuals have also pondered the meaning of their dreams. Whether these sleep-time adventures are considered voyages of the soul, messages from the gods, the doorway of the unconscious, or accidental byproducts of insufficient oxygen in the brain, down through the ages thoughtful men and women have sought to learn more about this intriguing activity of the sleeping consciousness.

Among the ancients there were the dream incubation temples of Serapis, Egyptian god of dreams; and later, of Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing. Thousands of people made their pilgrimage to these holy places to seek advice and healing from their dreams. After rigorous periods of fasting, prayer, and sacred ritual, they would attempt to induce revelatory nocturnal visions by spending the night in the temple. This practice was commonly employed by the cultic prophets and the kings of the ancient cities of Lagash in Sumer and Ugarit in Syria.

Plato (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) saw dreams as a release for passionate inner forces. In the second century, another Greek, Artemidorous of Ephesus, produced the Oneirocritica, the encyclopedia that was the forerunner to thousands of dream books throughout the ages.

In Hinduism, it is believed that the immortal soul within the physical body is able to leave the "house of flesh" during sleep and to travel wherever it desires. It is also thought that the passing to the next life after death may be compared to a sleeper awakening from a dream. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad states that the soul, the "self-luminous being," may assume many forms, high and low, in the world of dreams. "Some say that dreaming is but another form of waking, for what a man experiences while awake he experiences again in his dreams.As a man passes from dream to wakefulness, so does he pass at death from this life to the next" (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 4.3.1114, 35).

The Mesopotamian and Egyptian courts employed skilled professionals who sought to interpret dreams and visions. The Israelites, by contrast, believed that interpretation of dreams could be accomplished only with the Lord's guidance. "For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet a man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when sleep falleth upon men in slumberings upon the bed; then He openeth the ears of men, and speaketh their instructions, that he may withdraw man from his purpose and hide pride from man" (KJV: Job 33:14). The Talmud, the Hebrew sacred book of practical wisdom, reveals that the Jews gave great importance both to the dream and to the one whom the Lord gave the knowledge to interpret the dream. Joseph and Daniel were two Israelites who attained high regard for their skill as dream interpreters.

Dreams, or night visions, might be auditory and present a direct message (as in Job 33:1517, Genesis 20:3,6) or at other times be symbolic, requiring skilled interpretation. Jacob had a dream of a ladder set up on Earth, the top of it reaching to heaven. He beheld in this dream angels of God ascending and descending on the ladder with the Lord standing above it, confirming the covenant of Abraham to Jacob (Genesis 28:12). King Solomon received both wisdom and warning in dreams (I Kings 3:5, 9:2).

The New Testament accounts surrounding the birth of Jesus (c. 6 b.c.e.c. 30 c.e.) record a number of revelatory dreams. Joseph was instructed to wed Mary and was assured of her purity (Matthew 1:20), in spite of the apparent fact that she was already pregnant. Later, Joseph was warned to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:13), return to Israel, (2:19) and to go to Galilee (2:22). The Magi (the three wise men) were warned in a dream not to return to their native land along the same route as they had come (2:12) because of Herod's evil intentions. Acts 2:17 contains the prophetic verse: "And it shall come to pass in the last days saith God, I will pour out of my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy [preach] and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams."

By the late nineteenth century, dreams were being examined from a physiological perspective. The ancient notion that God spoke directly to men in dreams was pretty much dismissed by a culture that was becoming more scientific and materialistic. Then came the groundbreaking work of Sigmund Freud and Carl G. Jung.

In 1899 Sigmund Freud (18561939), a Viennese psychiatrist and the founder of psychoanalysis, brought dreams into the realm of the scientific community with the publication of his monumental work, The Interpretation of Dreams, in which he maintained that the dream is "the guardian of sleep" and "the royal road" to understanding the human unconscious. Freud's theory was basically that the dream was a disguised wish-fulfillment of infantile sexual needs, which were repressed by built-in censors of the waking mind. The apparent content of the dream was only concealing a shockingly latent dream. Through the use of a complex process of "dream work," which Freud developed, the dream could be unraveled backward, penetrating the unconscious memory of the dreamer and thereby setting the person free.

According to Dr. Stanley Krippner (1932 ), former director of the Dream Laboratory at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, contemporary experiments in sleep laboratories have confirmed many of Freud's speculations and cast doubt upon others. Some psychiatrists, including Lester Gelb, argue that the concept of the unconscious should be totally abandoned in explaining human behavior. Gelb feels it would be more useful to recognize several states or types of consciousnessworking, sleeping, dreaming, daydreaming, trance, and so fortheach of which can be productively studied by behavioral scientists. Krippner stated that possible confirmation of Freud's emphasis on sexual symbolism does occur occasionally in modern electroencephalographic dream research, but he further observed that human thought processes are too varied to allow any single, unitary explanation of dreaming to be adequate.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung (1875 1961), a student and later dissenter of Freudian techniques, added new dimensions to the understanding of the self through dreams. From Jung's perspective, Freud expressed a contempt for the psyche as a kind of waste bin for inappropriate or immoral thoughts. In Jung's opinion, the unconscious was far more than a depository for the past; it was also full of future psychic situations and ideas. Jung saw the dream as a compensatory mechanism whose function was to restore one's psychological balance. His concept of a collective unconscious linked humans with their ancestors as part of the evolutionary tendency of the human mind. Jung rejected arbitrary interpretations of dreams and dismissed free Freudian association as wandering too far from the dream content. Jung developed an intricate system of "elaborations," in which the dreamer relates all that he or she knows about a symbolas if he or she were explaining it to a visitor from another planet.

Jung found startling similarities in the unconscious contents and the symbolic processes of both modern and primitive humans, and he recognized what he called "archetypes," mental forces and symbology whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual's own life, but seemed to be "aboriginal, innate, and inherited shapes of the human mind." Jung believed that it is crucial to pay attention to the archetypes met in dream life. Of special importance is the "shadow," a figure of the same sex as the dreamer, which contains all the repressed characteristics one has not developed in his or her conscious life. The "anima" is the personification of all the female tendencies, both positive and negative, in the male psyche. Its counterpart in the female psyche is the "animus."

The most mysterious, but most significant, of the Jungian archetypes is the self, which M. L. von Fram describes in Man and His Symbols (1964) as the regulating center that brings about a constant expansion and maturing of the personality. The self emerges only when the ego can surrender and merge into it. The ego is the "I" within each individual. It is the thinking, feeling, and aware aspect of self that enables the individual to distinguish himself or herself from others. In psychoanalytic theory, the ego mediates between the more primitive drives of the "id," the unconscious, instinctual self, and the demands of the social environment in which the individual must function. (Jung saw the self as encompassing the total psyche, of which the ego is only a small part.) Jung called this psychic integration of the personality, this striving toward wholeness, the process of "individuation."

Many authorities consider Dr. Nathaniel Kleitman (18951999) to be the father of modern scientific dream research, for he pursued the subject when his colleagues dismissed the area as having no value. As a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, Kleitman asked a graduate student, Eugene Aserinsky, to study the relationship of eye movement and sleep; and in 1951, Aserinsky identified rapid eye movement (REM) and demonstrated that the brain is active during sleep, thus establishing the course for other dream researchers to follow. Although discussions of REM are now commonplace in the conversations of informed laypeople, it should be noted that prior to the work of Kleitman and Aserinsky most scientists maintained that the brain "tuned down" during sleep.

Pursuing the REM research, Kleitman and another of his medical students, William C. Dement, found what may be the pattern for a "good night's sleep." They discovered a nightly pattern of sleep that begins with about 90 minutes of non-REM rest during which brain-waves gradually lengthen and progress through four distinct stages of sleep, with Stage Four the deepest stage. It is then that the first REM episode of the night begins. Rapid eye movement is now observable, but the body itself remains still. The central nervous system becomes extremely active during REM. It becomes so intensely active that Dr. Frederick Snyder, of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), termed the activity "a third state of earthly existence," distinct from both non-REM sleep and wakefulness.

The breathing is even in non-REM sleep. During the REM episode breathing may accelerate to a panting pace. The rhythm of the heart may speed up or slow down unaccountably. Blood pressure can dramatically fall. Other physiological changes also occur during REM. The flow of blood to the brain increases about 40 percent. Then the individual stirs and returns to the non-REM sleep cycle. This pattern repeats itself throughout the night.

Dreaming, in Dr. Stanley Krippner's estimation, is a primary means of brain development and maturation. Newborn infants spend about half of their sleeping time in the rapid eye movement or dream state. Although such dreams probably are concerned with tactile impressions rather than memories, he believes that these dreams probably prepare the infants' immature nervous systems for the onslaught of experiences that come with the maturation of vision, hearing, and the other senses. To further support this theory, Krippner cites studies done with older subjects that indicate that young adults spend 25 percent of their time dreaming while the proportion decreases to 20 percent among the elderly. It seems that the brain, once it is functioning well, does not need as much dream time.

Recent experiments demonstrate that simple forms of mental functioning go on at night even when the individual is not dreaming. The brain appears to require constant stimulation even during sleep and may use dream periods to "keep in tune" and to process information that has accumulated during the day.

In the mid-1950s, Drs. William Dement and Charles Fischer, working at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, asked a group of volunteers to spend several nights in the laboratory. When the volunteers fell asleep, they were awakened throughout the night each time the electroencephalographs indicated the start of a dream period. These volunteers got all of their regular sleep except for their dream time. After five nights of dreamlessness, they became nervous, jittery, irritable, and had trouble concentrating. One volunteer quit the project in a panic.

Another group of volunteers in another part of the hospital was awakened the same number of times each night as those in the first group, but they were awakened when they were not dreaming. In other words, they were allowed approximately their usual amount of dream time. These volunteers suffered none of the troubles and upsets that afflicted the first group.

For the first time, the Dement and Fischer experiment presented evidence that regular dream sleep is essential to physical well-being. Some of the volunteers went as long as 15 nights without dream sleep, at which point they tried to dream all of the time, and the researchers had to awaken them constantly. When their dream time was no longer interrupted, the volunteers spent much more time than normal in dream sleep and continued to do so until they had made up their dream loss.

Dement summed up the results of their experiment by concluding that when people are deprived of REM sleep, a rebound effect occurs. If individuals are not getting their proper share of REM and non-REM rest and are feeling sleepy, they can become a menace. People who have accumulated a large sleep debt are dangerous drivers on the highway, for example.

Krippner believes that dreaming is as necessary to humans as eating and drinking. Not only does dreaming process data to keep the brain "in tune," but there is also evidence that a biochemical substance that accumulates during the day can only be eliminated from the nervous system during dream periods. Individuals should be just as concerned about receiving adequate dream time at night as they are about receiving adequate food during the day. Any disturbance that interrupts sleep will interfere with dream time, thus leaving the individual less well preparedphysically and psychologicallyto face the coming day. Alcohol, amphetamines, and barbiturates depress the amount of dreaming an individual can experience during the night, and users of these drugs should be aware of the fact. Coffee, however, does not seem to depress dream time.

Today there are at least 170 sleep clinics operating in the United States, and their analyses cite more than 50 sleep disorders. A general consensus of the researchers at such clinics expresses the opinion thatsecond only to the common coldsleep disorders constitute the most common health complaint. In March 2001, the National Sleep Foundation released the results of a poll that revealed that 51 percent of adults complained of insomnia, the inability to fall into a restful sleep, a few nights per week over the period of a year; 29 percent said that they had experienced insomnia almost every night over a year's time.

Researchers also have noted a mysterious kinship between mental illness and sleep and even longevity and sleep. Daniel Kripke, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at San Diego, led a study that tracked the sleeping habits of 1.1 million Americans for six years and concluded that, contrary to popular belief, people who sleep six or seven hours per night live longer than those who sleep eight or more. The controversial study, the largest of its kind, was published in the February 15, 2002, issue of Archives of General Psychiatry and provoked criticism from other sleep experts who stated that the main problem with America's sleep habits is deprivation, not oversleeping.

Dr. Patricia Carrington, a Princeton University psychologist, has expressed her hypothesis that humankind would be better served if it followed the natural rhythms, the biological alternation of rest and relaxation that is seen in animals. Only in human beings is there such a thing as 17 hours of constant wakefulness.

Many sleep and dream researchers have theorized that one of the reasons why humans use drugs, alcohol, caffeine, and other means of altering states of consciousness may be to somehow manipulate the body-mind structure into obeying the schedule forced upon it rather than permitting it to follow the natural cycles and rhythms of life itself. Dr. Jurgen Zulley, psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, has found evidence for a four-hour sleep-wake cycle with nap periods at approximately 9:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m., and 5:00 p.m. Zulley feels that individuals shouldn't try to combat their natural drowsiness at these times with coffee breaks or with exercise. In his opinion individuals should seek to be biologically correct. It would be better for human health, Zulley advises, if individuals took a short nap or just leaned back in a chair for a bit of relaxation rather than reaching for a soft drink or a cup of coffee to keep the mental motors running.

Dream researchers also have learned that environment appears to have a marked effect on dreams. One may have unusual dreams when spending the night in a friend's home or in a motel room. In their series of studies at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory, the research team found that the subjects' dreams often contained references to the electroencephalograph and to the electrodes on their heads, especially during the first night in which they participated in the study. Charles Tart, one of the nation's most eminent sleep and dream researchers, suggests that dream content also will differ with the demands placed upon the dreamer; dreams that are written down at home and given to a researcher will differ from dreams given to a psychotherapist, because in the latter instance the emphasis is on the person's inner life and his or her attempts to change his or her behavior.

It has been noted that patients who go to Freudian psychotherapists eventually begin to incorporate Freudian symbols into their dreams while patients who see Jungian analysts do the same with Jungian symbols.

Opinions on the degree to which external events influence dreams vary widely. Some dream researchers contend that all dreams are the result of presleep experiences, while Freudian psychoanalysts emphasize the internal determinants of dream content (i.e., one's unconscious drives and defenses). Others argue that the presleep experiences of one's daily activities may be used by the unconscious, but they are not of major significance in dream interpretation.

In 1967, Tart presented a list of the various items that influence dreams. Tart's list included the dreamer's actual life history; the dreamer's memories of what has happened to him or her, especially during the past week; the "day residue," which includes immediate presleep experiences; and currently poorly understood factors such as atmospheric concentration, barometric pressure, and paranormal stimuli such as telepathic messages.

Dream researchers are not sure how the visual dimensions in dreams compare with the visual dimensions in everyday life. Dream reports indicate that most often the dream is on a "cinemascope screen" rather than on a small "television screen." People usually are seen full-length and in about the same dimensions as they appear during waking hours.

One reason REMs (rapid eye movements) are associated with dreams may be that the eyes scan the visual scene just as they do during the waking state. On the other hand, eye movements also occur when subjects report no movement in their dreams, suggesting that the relationship between rapid eye movements and dreams is highly complex.

There is not a one-to-one relationship between waking time and dream time. However, extreme time distortion rarely occurs in dreams despite the fact that many psychologists used to believe that dreams lasted only a second or two.

The subjects at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory recalled the visual elements in their dreams most clearly, but auditory (sound) and tactile (touch) impressions also were common. While subjects in the dream laboratories report auditory and tactile impressions in addition to vivid visual dreams, some individuals stubbornly insist that they "never dream." Since researchers have established that dreaming is as necessary to mental and physical health as eating and drinking, it becomes apparent that individuals who claim that they never dream simply are not remembering their dreams, or are having dreams they wish to forgetthe nightmares.

Delving Deeper

Faraday, Ann. Dream Power. New York: Berkley Medallion Books Edition, 1973.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Basic Books, 1955.

Hall, Calvin S. The Meaning of Dreams. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1953, 1956.

Jung, C. G., ed. Man and His Symbols. London: Aldus Books, 1964; New York: Dell Publishing, 1968.

Kramer, Milton, ed. Dream Psychology and the New Biology of Dreaming. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1969.

Krippner, Stanley. Dreamtime and Dreamwork: Decod ing the Language of the Night. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1990.

Perls, Frederick S. Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. Lafayette, Calif.: Real People Press, 1969.

Sechrist, Elsie. DreamsYour Magic Mirror. New York: Dell Publishing, 1969.

Stekel, Wilhelm. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Washington Square Press, 1967.

Tart, Charles, ed. Altered States of Consciousness. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1969.

Vedantam, Shankar. "Study Links 8 Hours' Sleep to Shorter Life Span." Washington Post, February 15, 2002. [Online] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A12305-2002Feb14.html.

Creative and Lucid Dreaming

Data currently being researched indicates that dreams provide a fertile field for the examination of creative processes. The act of dreaming, that most personal and subjective experience, may well be a key to humankind's hidden powers. Many artists, writers, inventors, musicians, and other creative people have received inspiration in their dreams or have used their dreams as problem-solving catalysts.

All through Easter Day in 1920, Dr. Otto Loewi, research pharmacologist at the New York University College of Medicine, pondered a strange dream that revisited the details of an experiment that he had discarded 17 years before. Acetylcholine, the chemical that he had used in the experiment, had first been isolated by Dr. H. H. Dale, Loewi's close friend, in 1914, but the new test inspired by Loewi's dream brought about an abrupt change in the theory of muscle stimulation. Loewi and Dale shared the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1936.

Although the experiment itself had a striking effect on the academic world of physiology, the manner in which the idea came to Loewi is perhaps even more astounding. It is conceivable that ideas can be transferred from one mind to another during sleep, but when such ideas are not in the mind of another person, from where could they possibly arise? Before his death in 1961, Loewi stated that he could not possibly answer this question. Perhaps no one can, but it is certain that Loewi's dream provided the key to subsequent research that eventually gained him the Nobel Prize.

Solving problems via the dream state is as old as humankind itself. Thomas Edison (18471931), the "Genius of Menlo Park," it is said, had the habit of curling up in his roll-top desk to catch brief naps that sometimes constituted his entire sleep schedule. After such a nap he would emerge with the answers to problems that had plagued him during his waking state.

Elias Howe (18191867) failed at the conscious level to perfect a workable sewing machine. Then one night he dreamed that a savage king ordered him to invent a sewing machine, and when he was unable to comply, the spear-armed natives raised their weapons to kill him. At that exact moment, he noticed that each spear had a hole in it just above the point. This vision gave him the much-needed clue to the commercial perfection of the sewing machine.

Another famous scientist who used his dreams to solve problems was Niels Bohr (18851962), who one night dreamed of a sun composed of burning gas with planets spinning around it, attached by thin threads. He realized that this explained the structure of the atom, which eventually led to the field of atomic physics and, ultimately, atomic energy.

William Wordsworth (17701850) credited dreams for the many poems he wrote. "Kubla Khan" was the result of a dream by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (17721834). The classic novel Jane Eyre (1847) was spun from the dreams of Charlotte Brontë (18161855).

Some of the world's most successful business executives never make a decision until they have a chance to allow it to pass through their minds during the hours of sleep, permitting solutions to come during dreams. Once this practice of "sleeping on a problem" becomes habit, these successful individuals find that there is really nothing magical about the process of dreaming solutions. Creative dreaming simply appears to be a matter of training the mind to do certain things. The subconscious level of the mind does the work, rather than the intellectual level. The subconscious understands symbols far better than words, and, in general, can be likened to an electronic computer. Material must be fed into it or it cannot produce effective answers. To the intellect, a particular plan may sound silly, but to the subconscious it may make a lot of sense.

The concept of the dream as a creative tool may be somewhat alien to Western thought, but numerous Eastern writings, including the ancient Hindu Upanishads, speak of this aspect of the dream. One of the Upanishads says that "Man in his dreams becomes a creator. There are no real chariots in that stateno blessingsno joys, but he himself creates blessings, happiness and joys." Psychologists Montague Ullman, Joseph Adelson, Howard Shevrin, and Frederick Weiss have done much to advance the thesis that dreams basically are creative.

Psychoanalyst Ullman cites four creative aspects of dreaming:

  1. the element of originality;
  2. the joining together of elements into new patterns;
  3. the concern with accuracy;
  4. the felt reaction of participating in an involuntary experience.

Ullman concedes that the final product of a dream's creativity may be either dull or ecstatic, but he insists that it is an act of creation to have the dream in the first place.

Lucid dreaming is simply the technique of dreaming while knowing that one is still dreaming. The word "lucid" is used to indicate a sense of mental clarity. A lucid dream usually occurs while one is in the midst of a dream and suddenly realizes that the experience that he or she is undergoing is not happening in physical reality, but in the framework of a dream scenario. Often the dreamer notices some impossible occurrence in the dream, such as having a conversation with a deceased relative or having the ability to fly, which prompts this awareness. While experiencing lucid dreaming is not quite the same thing as exercising control over one's dreams, the dreamer who realizes that he or she is dreaming may greatly influence the course of the events in the dream scenario. Some practitioners of lucid dreaming promise extended creativity, the ability to overcome nightmares and other sleep problems, the healing of mind and bodyand even spiritual transcendence.

Those who teach lucid dreaming state that the two essentials are motivation and effort. Lucid dreaming techniques allow the individual dreamer to focus intention and to prepare a critical mind. The exercises taught by those conducting lucid dreaming workshops range from ancient Tibetan techniques to modern programs developed by dream researchers.

Delving Deeper

Faraday, Ann. Dream Power. New York: Berkley Medallion Books Edition, 1973.

Hall, Calvin S. The Meaning of Dreams. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1953, 1956.

Krippner, Stanley. Dreamtime and Dreamwork: Decod ing the Language of the Night. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1990.

Krippner, Stanley, with Montague Ullman and Alan Vaughan. Dream Telepathy: Experiments in Nocturnal ESP. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland Publishers, 1989.

LaBerge, Stephen. Lucid Dreaming. New York: Ballantine, 1986.

Lucidity Institute. [Online] http://www.lucidity.com/LucidDreamingFAQ2.html.

Sechrist, Elsie. DreamsYour Magic Mirror. New York: Dell Publishing, 1969.

Van de Castle, Robert L. Our Dreaming Mind. New York: Ballantine, 1994.


A nightmare differs considerably from a frightening dream. The terror of a nightmare is more intense and does not present an image or a dream sequence. Dreamers in the throes of a nightmare cry out while in deep sleep. They sweat, have difficulty in breathing, and often appear as if paralyzed.

In 1968 Dr. R. J. Broughton compiled considerable evidence that indicates that bed-wetting, sleepwalking, and nightmares occur during periods of deep sleep rather than during periods of dreaming, as the layperson often assumes. Bed-wetting is common among unstable individuals, and the sleepwalker, in about 25 percent of the cases, is also a bed-wetter. Dream researcher Dr. Stanley Krippner agrees that nightmares, bed-wetting, and sleepwalking rarely coincide with dream periods.

Psychiatrist Ernest Hartmann of Tufts University believes that the nightmares of people who seem physically healthy but who regularly suffer from "bad dreams" are reflecting their personalities rather than a traumatic past or a present struggle with health problems. Hartmann found evidence of "thin boundaries" in people prone to recurrent nightmares. In his assessment they were men and women who tended to be more open and sensitive than the average. They were, he discovered, people with a tendency to become quickly and deeply involved in relationships with other individuals. At the same time, paradoxically, they also tended to be "loners," people who did not identify strongly with groups of any kind.

Hartmann developed a 138-item "Boundary Questionnaire" that he administered to more than a thousand people, including a wide range of students, nightmare sufferers, and naval officers. The findings supported earlier studies that suggested that many of the men and women who endure nightmares are artistic or otherwise creative people. Naval officers, not surprisingly, most often turned up on the opposite end of the scale with rather "thick boundaries." Hartmann speculates that "boundary thickness" may reflect a basic organizational pattern of the brainone that is genetically determined or established early in life. The general openness of "thin-boundaried" people may predispose them to creativity, but it also binds them to a childlike vulnerability that leaves them at the mercy of the night creatures that go "bump" in the darkness.

Nightmares, then, just might be the price that some otherwise healthy and untroubled people pay for their sensitivity and creativity. The nightmare may work out the vulnerability, Hartmann states, especially if the sufferer learns to maneuver the frightening dream from a place of vulnerability to a place of control.

On October 2, 2001, clinical psychologist Alan Siegel, editor of Dream Time magazine, told Mike Conklin, reporter for the Chicago Tribune, that the people of the United States had entered a "national epidemic of nightmares" brought on by the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11. "Nightmares are a cardinal symptom of something traumatic in [One's] life," Siegel said. "In this case, we've lost our sense of security, and this is something more traumatic than most Americans have really experienced before."

Dr. Michael Friedman, a sleep specialist at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, agreed that there was no question that they had begun treating many patients with sleep problems and nightmares related to the incidents of that terrible event. Deirdre Barrett, a psychology professor at Harvard Medical Center who supervised counselors at Boston's Logan Airport following the hijackings of the jets that crashed into the Twin Towers, cautioned that in some cases it might be six months or a year before certain people would begin having traumatic dreams of the series of events that occurred on September 11, 2001.

Siegel went on to explain that such nightmares should be considered the brain's natural means of dealing with the trauma, dispelling it through the subconscious while people are sleeping. Although people tend to think of nightmares as a kind of mental poison, Siegel said that, in reality, "they are a form of vaccine."

Delving Deeper

Conklin, Mike. "Plague of Nightmares Descend on Elm Street." Tribune, October 2, 2001. [Online] http://chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/chi-0110020007oct02.story?coll=chi-leisureterr.

Faraday, Ann. Dream Power. New York: Berkley Medallion Books Edition, 1973.

Hall, Calvin, S. The Meaning of Dreams. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1953, 1956.

Kramer, Milton, ed. Dream Psychology and the New Biology of Dreaming. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1969.

Krippner, Stanley. Dreamtime and Dreamwork: Decod ing the Language of the Night. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1990.

Sechrist, Elsie. DreamsYour Magic Mirror. New York: Dell Publishing, 1969.

Tart, Charles, ed. Altered States of Consciousness. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1969.

Sleep Paralysis

Sleep paralysis is a condition that occurs in that state just before falling to sleep (hypnagogic state) or just before fully awakening from sleep (hypnopompic state). Although the condition may last for only a few seconds, during that time a person undergoing sleep paralysis is unable to move or speak and often experiences a sense of fear that there is some unknown presence in the room. Along with such hallucinations as seeing ghosts, angels, devils, and extraterrestrial beings, many individuals undergoing sleep paralysis also report the sensation of being touched, pulled, or feeling a great pressure on the chest.

A general consensus among researchers links sleep paralysis with rapid eye movement (REM), the dream state. While in the normal state of dreaming, the muscles relax and the brain blocks signals that would permit the limbs to move, thus preventing the body from acting out its dreams. In the case of sleep paralysis, the usual barrier between sleeping and wakefulness temporarily drops and certain sleep phenomena, of which immobility is one, enter into wakefulness. Some individuals, momentarily paralyzed, suffer feelings of dread, helplessness, and become convinced that they have been visited by some supernatural presence.

The 1990 International Classification of Sleep Disorders reports that sleep paralysis may occur to 40 to 60 percent of the population once or twice in a lifetime, but happens quite frequently to people who suffer from narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. Research has also determined that instances of sleep paralysis usually begin around the ages of 16 and 17, increases through the teen years, and generally declines during the 20s. Although the condition is comparatively rare during the 30s, roughly 3 to 6 percent of the general population may continue on occasion to experience sleep paralysis throughout their lives, especially if they undergo sleep deprivation or experience frequent sleep disruption.

Because the experience is extremely frightening for many who suffer from sleep paralysis, they may be reluctant to discuss the problem because they have become convinced that they have witnessed a supernatural visitation or because they fear they are going insane. Researchers insist that while the condition of sleep paralysis may be unpleasant and unsettling, it is not indicative of any serious long-term psychological problem. Those enduring severe sleep paralysis have been successfully treated with certain antidepressants that inhibit REM sleep. Even more effective, many sleep researchers maintain, is to understand more about what the condition is and learn not to fear it.

Delving Deeper

Hellmich, Nanci. "When Sleep Is But a Dream." USA Today, March 27, 2001. [Online] http://www.usatoday.com/life/llead.htm.

Hufford, David J. The Terror That Comes in the Night: An Experience-Centered Study of Supernatural Assault Traditions. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.

Krippner, Stanley, with Joseph Dillard. Dreamwork: How to Use Your Dreams for Creative Problem-Solving. Buffalo, N.Y.: Bearly, 1988.

Rowlands, Barbara. "In the Dead of Night." The Observer, November 18, 2001. [Online] http://www.observer.co.uk/life/story/0,6903,596608,00.html.

Symbology of Dreams

Fritz Perls (18931970), the founder of Gestalt therapy, believed that dreams were "the royal road to integration." In his view the various parts of a dream should be thoroughly examined and even role-played to gain self-awareness and to integrate fragmented aspects of the personality into wholeness. According to Perls, the different parts of a dream are fragments of the human personality. To become a unified person without conflicts, one must put the different fragments of the dream together.

The Gestalt approach to learning about oneself through dreams lies in a concerted attempt to integrate one's dreams, rather than seeking to analyze them. This can be accomplished by consciously reliving the dreams, by taking responsibility for being the people and the objects in the dream, and by becoming aware of the messages contained in the dream.

Perls found that in order to learn from dreams, it is not essential to work out the entire dream structure. To work even with small bits of the dream is to learn more about the dreamer. In order to "relive" a dream one must first refresh one's memory of it by writing it down or by telling it to another person as a story that is happening now, in the present tense.

Perls used the present tense in all of Gestalt dream work. In his view, dreams are the most spontaneous expression of the existence of the human being. One might perceive dreams being much like a stage production, but the action and the direction are not under the same control as in waking life. Therefore, Perls advised, it is helpful to visualize a dream as a script from one's own internal stage production.

Each part of the dream is likely to be disguised or to bear a hidden message about the dreamer. When the message comes through, the individual will feel that shock of recognition that Gestalt called the "Ah-ha!"

Perls concluded that every dream has a message to reveal to the dreamer. Like most dream researchers, he recommends that one keep a paper and pencil at bedside in order to record the important points of one's dreams as they are remembered.

Dr. Stanley Krippner (1932 ), formerly of the Maimonides Dream Laboratory in New York City, said if one were to lie quietly in bed for a few moments each morning the final dream of the night would often be remembered. In Krippner's opinion, no dream symbols carry the same meaning for every person. Despite certain mass-produced "dream interpretation guides," the research in the dream laboratories indicates that only a skilled therapist, working closely with an individual over a long period of time, can hope to interpret dream symbolism with any degree of correctness. Even then the therapist's interpretations would hold true for only that one subject.

Krippner points out, however, that certain dreams do occur with great frequency among peoples all over the world. Dr. Carl G. Jung (18751961) spoke of "archetypal images" in humankind's "collective unconscious." In this part of the mind, Jung believed, were images common to all people everywhere. People living in different times and different places have dreamed of "wise old men," "earth mothers," "mandalas" (circles within a square), and other "archetypes."

Jung's theories are rejected by many psychologists and psychiatrists as being too mystical, but Krippner believes Jung's hypotheses really are not in conflict with what the dream researchers call "scientific common sense." There must be something structural in the brain comparable to the structural form of other body parts. If so, this structure would develop along certain general lines even though an individual were isolated from other human beings.

According to a general consensus among dream researchers, the number one rule in understanding one's dreams is to understand oneself. It is only by knowing oneself as completely as possible that any individual will be able to identify and fully comprehend the dream symbols that are uniquely his or her own. Here are a number of symbols commonly seen in dreams and general meanings that have been applied to them by certain researchers:

  • Angel. Contact with Higher Self or superconsciousness. Guidance. Wisdom. Truth.
  • Bathing. Spiritual cleansing. Need to "clean up" one's life.
  • Cat. Universal symbol for woman. May refer to gossip; beware of gossip. The mysterious. Independence.
  • Church. The realm of Inner Awareness. Higher Self. Spiritual need.
  • Desert. Spiritual thirst. Emotional barrenness. Sterility.
  • Devil. Unpleasant person. Authoritarian figure of negative emotions. Parent figure for unhappy childhood. Search for forbidden knowledge.
  • Earthquake. Inner turmoil. Old ideas and problems coming forth. Literal or prophetic. Changes.
  • Falling. A natural fear and common to children. Falling from grace or higher spiritual realms. Defeat.
  • Hair. If soft and clean: spiritual beauty; if matted and dirty: spiritually unclean; if thinning or bald: a man may feel consciousness of his age, or of aging. Gray or white represents wisdom. A haircut may represent loss of vitality.
  • Island. Seclusion. Desire to get away from it all. Security. A place of inhibitions.
  • Judge. Authority figure. One who views objectively and fairly. Need for Self-discipline. Hidden guilt.
  • Key. The answer to a problem. Opening new doorways of opportunity. Gaining of new knowledge or wisdom.
  • Lake. Water symbol for spirit. Peace if placid or smooth.
  • Mirror. Reveals one's true Self. good, bad, or indifferent. A reflection of the truth. Can also represent illusion, that which is not real, only a reflection.
  • Needle. Sewing indicates repairing errors of the past or may be someone giving someone the "needle."
  • Ocean. Spirit, God, Higher Self. Peace, unless a rough sea, then turmoil, strife, etc.
  • Pig. Selfishness.
  • Relatives. Relatives often represent parts of the dreamer's Self playing various roles of his or her life.
  • Suitcase. Prosperity. Desire to travel. Prestige. Subconscious desire for someone else to go away.
  • Sun. Spiritual light and awareness.
  • Teeth. The loss of a tooth or teeth may foretell the loss of something of value.
  • Water. Source of Life. Spirit, God, Universal.

Delving Deeper

Faraday, Ann. Dream Power. New York: Berkley Medallion Books Edition, 1973.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Basic Books, 1955.

Hall, Calvin S. The Meaning of Dreams. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1953, 1956.

Jung, C. G., ed. Man and His Symbols. London: Aldus Books, 1964; New York: Dell Publishing, 1968.

Krippner, Stanley. Dreamtime and Dreamwork: Decod ing the Language of the Night. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1990.

Krippner, Stanley, with Mark Waldman. Dreamscap ing: New and Creative Ways to Work with Your Dreams. Los Angeles: Lowell House, 1999.

Perls, Frederick S. Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. Lafayette, Calif.: Real People Press, 1969.

Sechrist, Elsie. DreamsYour Magic Mirror. New York: Dell Publishing, 1969.

Stekel, Wilhelm. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Washington Square Press, 1967.


views updated May 29 2018


The occult significance of dreams was a matter of speculation among the wise at an early period in the history of civilization. The entries on Babylonia and Egypt to some extent out-line the methods by which the wise men of those countries divined the future from visions seen in sleep, and articles dealing with other countries include data relating to dreams and dreamlore. This entry addresses some of the more outstanding theories of antiquity regarding the nature and causes of dreams and the manner in which the ancient diviners generally interpreted them.

Historical Views of Dreaming

Dreams were regarded as of two kindsfalse and true, in either case emanating from a supernatural intelligence, evil or good. Sleep was regarded as a second life by the ancients, a life in which the soul was freed from the body and was therefore much more active than during the waking state. The acts it observed and the scenes through which it passed were thought to have a bearing on the future life of the dreamer, but it is also believed that the dream life was regarded as supernatural and "inverted," and that the events that the bodiless spirit beheld were the opposites of those that would later occur on the earth-ly plane. The idea thus originated that "dreams go by contraries," as both popular belief and many treatises upon the subject of nightly visions assure us is the case.

A belief in the divinatory character of dreams arose, and their causes and nature occupied some of the greatest minds of antiquity. Aristotle, for example, believed them to arise solely from natural causes. Posidonius the Stoic was of the opinion that there were three kinds: the first was automatic and came from the clear sight of the soul, the second from spirits, and the third from God. Cratippus, Democritus, and Pythagoras held doctrines almost identical to this or differing only in detail.

Later, Macrobius divided dreams into five kinds: the dream, the vision, the ocular dream, the insomnium, and the phantasm. The first was a figurative and mysterious representation that required an interpretation; the second was an exact representation of a future event in sleep; the third was a dream representing some priest or divinity who declared to the sleeper things to come; the fourth was an ordinary dream not deserving of attention; and the fifth was a disturbing half-awake dream, a species of nightmare.

Other writers divided dreams into accidental dreams and those induced for the purposes of divination. Herodotus wrote that in the temple of Bel in Babylon, a priestess lay on a bed of ram skin ready to dream for divination. The ancient Hebrewsobtained such dreams by sleeping among tombs. Dreams are believed to be as successful as hypnosis and other methods of reaching the supernatural world and hearing its pronouncements.

Sleep was, of course, often induced by drugs, whether the soma of the Hindus, the peyotl of the ancient Mexicans, the hashish of the Arabs, or the opium of the Malays or Chinese. These narcotics, which have the property of inducing speedy sleep and of heightening inward visions, were and are still prized by professional dreamers all over the world, especially as they render dreaming almost immediately possible.

Ancient Methods of Dream Interpretation

As stated, interpretation of dreams was generally undertaken by a special class of diviners, who in ancient Greece were known as oneiocritikoi, or "interpreters of dreams." The first treatise on the subject was that of Artemidorus (ca. 100C.E.). He differentiated between the dreams of kings and those of commoners, since he believed that the visions of royalty referred to the commonwealth and not to the individual. Dreams that represented something happening to the dreamer revealed a personal significance, whereas a dream relating to another concerned him alone. He detailed the numerous species of dreams throughout five books, giving numerous examples. The rules of Artemidorus are far from clear, and according to them, any dream might signify any event, and any interpretation might be considered justifiable.

The method of testing dreams according to Moses Amyraldus in his Discours sur les songes divins (1625) was to determine whether the instructions and advice they contained made for good or illa test impossible to apply until after the result is known. But Amyraldus addressed this difficulty by proposing to test dreams by the evidence of divine knowledge they showedby asking whether the dream gave any evidence of things such as God alone could know.

It seems from an examination of dreams submitted to the ancient diviners that the exhibited symbolism could only be interpreted through divine aid, as in the cases of Moses and Daniel in the Bible. Many improbable interpretations were given to most epochal dreams of antiquity. There are some students of the occult who doubt the occult significance of dreams and do not classify dreams generally with vision, second sight, or ecstasy.

Dreams and Psychical Phenomena

Dreams of a supernormal character fall within the purview of psychical research. The dividing line between normal and supernormal dreams is not easy to draw. It is believed that sub-conscious elaboration often presents supernormal effects.

Reportedly Goethe solved scientific problems and composed poetry in his dreams. Jean de La Fontaine composed The Fable of Pleasures and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "Kubla Khan" (1816) as a result of dreams. Bernhard Palissy made a piece on dream inspiration. Matthew Maury confessed, "I have had in dream ideas and inspiration that could never have entered my consciousness when awake." Giuseppe Tartini heard his "Sonate del Diavolo" played by Beelzebub in a dream, Holden composed La Phantasie in his sleep; and Charles Nodier's Lydia was similarly born. Robert Louis Stevenson's most ingenious plots were evolved in the dream state. Reportedly Kruger, Corda, and Maignan solved mathematical problems in dreams and Condillac finished an interrupted lecture. For many of the Romantic writers, such as Coleridge and Nodier, these creative dreams were induced by the ingestion of opium.

A dream of Louis Agassiz is frequently quoted. He tried for two weeks to decipher the obscure impression of a fish fossil on the stone slab in which it was preserved. In a dream he saw the fish with all the missing features restored. The image escaped him on awakening. He went to the Jardin des Plantes in the hope that an association with the fossil would recapture it. It did not. The next night he again dreamed of the fish, but in the morning the features of the fish were as elusive as ever. On the third night he placed paper and pencil near his bed. Toward morning the fish again appeared in a dream. Half dreaming, half awake, he traced the outlines in the darkness. On awakening he was surprised to see details in his nocturnal sketch that he thought impossible. He returned to the Jardin des Plantes and began to chisel on the surface of the stone using the sketch as a guide. Reportedly Agassiz found the hidden portions of the fish as indicated in the drawing.

The dream of a Professor Hilprecht, a Babylonian scholar who tried to decipher writing on two small pieces of agate, is more complicated and belongs to the clairvoyant order. As reported in the Proceedings of the Societry for Psychical Research (August 1900), he went to sleep and dreamt of a tall, thin priest of the old pre-Christian Nippur who led him to the treasure chamber of the temple and went with him into a small, lowceilinged room without windows in which there was a large wooden chest; scraps of agate and lapis lazuli lay scattered on the floor. Here the priest addressed Hilprecht as follows:

"The two fragments which you have published separately belong together, and their history is as follows: King Kruigalzu [c. 1300 B.C.E.] once sent to the temple of Bel, among other articles of agate and lapis-lazuli, an inscribed votive cylinder of agate. Then we priests suddenly received the command to make for the statue of the god Nidib a pair of ear rings of agate. We were in great dismay, since there was no agate as raw material at hand. In order for us to execute the command there was nothing for us to do but cut the votive cylinder into three parts, thus making three rings, each of which contained a portion of the original inscription. The first two served as ear rings for the statue of the god; the two fragments which have given you so much trouble are portions of them. If you will put the two together you will have a confirmation of my words." The continuation of the story is given by Mrs. Hilprecht, who testified to having seen her husband jump out of bed, rush into the study and cry out, "It is so, it is so."

The scientist Nikola Tesla had waking visions in which a complex electrical engineering apparatus was perceived in total details of design and construction.

There are many cases of bits of information obtained in dreams. William James was impressed by the Enfield case, in which the discovery of the body of a drowned woman was effected through a dream of a Mrs. Titus of Lebanon, a stranger to the scene. Charles Richet recounts the following instance of dream cognition:

"I saw Stella on the 2nd of December during the day, and on leaving I said 'I am going to give a lecture on snake poison.' She at once replied: 'I dreamt last night of snakes, or rather of eels.' Then, without of course giving any reason, I asked her to tell me her dream, and her exact words were: 'It was about eels more than snakes, two eels, for I could see their white shining bellies and their sticky skin; and I said to myself I do not like these creatures, but it pains me when they are hurt.' This dream was strangely conformable to what I had done the day before, December 1. On that day I had, for the first time in twenty years, experimented with eels. Desiring to draw from them a little blood, I had put two eels on the table and their white, shining, irridescent, viscous bellies had particularly struck me."

A case of dream clairvoyance, possibly under spirit influence, is that of a Miss Loganson, 19, of Chicago. She saw in a dream the murder of her brother, Oscar, who was a farmer of Marengo, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago. She accused a farmer neighbor named Bedford for days, but no one paid attention to her. At length she was permitted to send a telegram; the reply was, "Oscar has disappeared." Starting for Oscar's farm, accompanied by another brother and by the police, she went directly to Bedford's house. Traces of blood were found in the kitchen. Proceeding to the hen house, the yard of which was paved, the girl said, "My brother is buried here." Because of the girl's insistence and her agitation, consent was given to dig. Under the pavement they first found the brother's over-coat; five feet down they came upon the body. Bedford was arrested at Ellos, Nebraska, and hanged in due course. Miss Loganson, in explanation, said that the spirit of her brother haunted her for seven days in dreams.

Lost objects are frequently found in dreams. In most cases subconscious memory sufficiently explains the mystery. There are, however, more complicated cases. According to legend Hercules appeared in a dream to Sophocles and indicated where a golden crown would be found. Sophocles got the reward promised to the finder.

Supposedly the paranormal character of dreams is clearest in telepathic and prophetic dreams. They often produce an impression lasting for days. Sweating and trembling are occasionally experienced on waking from a dream of this character. The dreams tend to be repeated. One case of prophetic dreams announced the murder of a Chancellor Perceval. It is thus narrated by one Abercrombie: "Many years ago there was mentioned in several of the newspapers a dream which gave notice of the murder of Mr. Perceval. Through the kindness of an eminent medical friend in England I have received the authentic particulars of this remarkable case, from the gentleman to whom the dream occurred. He resides in Cornwall, and eight days before the murder was committed, dreamt that he was in the lobby of the House of Commons, and saw a small man enter, dressed in a blue coat and white waistcoat. Immediately after, he saw a man dressed in a brown coat with yellow basket metal buttons draw a pistol from under his coat, and discharge it at the former, who instantly fell; the blood issued from the wound a little below the left breast. He saw the murderer seized by some gentlemen who were present, and observed his countenance; and on asking who the gentleman was that had been shot, he was told that it was the Chancellor. He then awoke, and mentioned the dream to his wife, who made light of it; but in the course of the night the dream occurred three times without the least variation in any of the circumstances. He was now so much impressed by it, that he felt much inclined to give notice to Mr. Perceval, but was dissuaded by some friends whom he consulted, who assured him that he would only get himself treated as a fanatic. On the evening of the eighth day after, he received the account of the murder. Being in London a short time after, he found in the print-shops a representation of the scene, and recognised in it the countenance and dresses of the parties, the blood on Mr. Perceval's waistcoat, and the yellow basket buttons on Bellingham's coat, precisely as he had seen them in his dreams."

J. W. Dunne's An Experiment with Time (1927) is a study of how future events are foreshadowed in our dreams. By keeping a record of his dreams, putting them down immediately on awakening, he found that a considerable part of his dreams anticipated future experiences, and this was corroborated by fellow experimenters.

Many other dreams, difficult to classify, bear the stamp of paranormal. Camille Flammarion in his Death and its Mystery (1922-23) quoted the curious dream of a Mrs. Marechal, who between sleeping and waking, saw a specter taking her arm and saying, "Either your husband or your daughter must die. Choose!" After great mental sufferings she decided for her child. Five days later her husband, who was in good health, suddenly died.

The experience of déjà vu to which advocates of reincarnation often refer, may be explained by traveling clairvoyance in dreams. Another explanation, a theory of ancestral dreams, is offered in the Bulletins et Mémoires de la Societé d'Anthropologie de Paris by Letourneau, as follows:

"Certain events, external or psychic, which have made a deep impression on a person, may be so deeply engraved upon his brain as to result in a molecular orientation, so lasting that it may be transmitted to some of his descendants in the same way as character, aptitudes, mental maladies, etc. It is then no longer a question of infantile reminiscences, but of ancestral recollections, capable of being revived. From that will proceed not only the fortuitous recognition of places which a person has never seen, but, moreover a whole category of peculiar dreams, admirably co-ordinated, in which we witness as at a panorama, adventures which cannot be remembrances, because they have not the least connection with our individual life" (Paul Joire, Psychical and Supernormal Phenomena, 1936).

Hereward Carrington called attention in The Story of Psychic Science (1930) to the neglect shown for the dreams of mediums. It is believed that if the communicators are subconscious personalities, some connection may be established between them and the dreams of the medium. In the Lenora Piper trances the communicators themselves alleged that they were in a dreamlike state. In one instant a statement came through that was quite wrong, but upon investigation, it turned out to be a remark that the communicator made in the delirium of death.

Modern Views on Dreaming

Modern scientists have studied the relationship of eye movements to dreaming. Professors N. Kleitman and E. Aserinsky of the Department of Physiology, University of Chicago, monitored eye movements of sleepers using electroencephalographic records. They distinguished four types of brain wave and sleep periods, ranging from lightest sleep to deep coma. In stage 1 there were rapid eye movements; in stages 2, 3, and 4, eye movements were slow. They concluded that rapid eye movements (REMs) were related to dreaming, when the eyes move like a spectator watching a theater play or reading a book.

This relationship between eye movement and mental states makes interesting comparison with Eastern religious techniques of meditation. In both Indian and Chinese yoga meditation exercises, eye rolling and focusing is linked to techniques of concentration and visionary experience.

The dream state plays a prominent part in Hindu religious philosophy, which recognizes four states of consciousness waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and a fourth condition of higher consciousness that embraces the first three. Hindu mystics have stressed that since the essential self (the unconditioned sense of "I") is constant in all states of consciousness, identification with the body, mind, emotions, memories, age, sex, and so on in waking life is illusorya false egosince such characteristics are transitory. The pure self is always present, and this essential "I-ness" is the same in all individuals. Awareness of this true self in the fourth condition of higher consciousness (turiya ) is known as self-realization, in which there is unity with all creation. The significance of dreaming, deep sleep, and waking states is discussed in the Hindu scripture Mandukya Upani-shad.

Many out-of-the-body travel experiences (astral projection ) appear to be stimulated by vivid dreams, particularly when waking consciousness is aroused by some irregularity in the logic of a dream. For example, a dreamer recognizes the familiar environment of his own room, but notices that the wallpaper is the wrong design and color, and immediately thinks "This must be a dream!" This gaining of waking consciousness while still in a sleeping condition sometimes results in a subtle or astral body moving independently of the physical body. (See dreaming true; lucid dreams )

Some experimenters have claimed that release of the subtle body may be stimulated by deliberately induced images of release (e.g., taking off in an airplane, traveling upward in an elevator), just before passing into the sleep state. Such out-of-the-body experiences were also recognized in Hindu religious philosophy and are described in ancient scriptures. The subtle body was named the sukshma sharira.

Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis have moved in a different direction in their interpretation of the significance of dreams. Certain elements in dreams are said to be wish fulfilling, or to contain clues to psychic problems of the individual. In Jungian analysis, dream symbols are also understood as universal archetypes of human experience. Carl G. Jung drew heavily upon Eastern religious philosophies in his exposition of the concept of a collective unconscious.

Scientific research indicates other fascinating areas of dreaming. In 1927 J. W. Dunne, a British airplane designer, published his remarkable book An Experiment with Time, in which he analyzes a dream experiment suggestive of the occur-rence of future elements in dreams, side by side with images from past experience.

In 1970 the Soviet psychiatrist Dr. Vasily Kasatkin reported on a 28 year study of 8,000 dreams and concluded that dreams could warn of the onset of a serious illness several months in advance, through a special sensitivity of the brain to preliminary physical symptoms.

At the Dream Laboratory, founded at Maimonides Medical Center, New York, in 1962, volunteers submitted to controlled experiments in dreaming, studying the rapid eye movements noticeable in people as they dream. One of the most interesting projects was a statistical study with pairs of subjects, which tended to show that telepathic dreams could be produced experimentally.

It would seem that dreaming and the elements in dreams have many different aspects of a physiological and psychological nature, with certain paranormal characteristics. Many of these aspects differ widely in various individuals. There have been well-authenticated prophetic dreams, as well as fragmentary elements of future events of the kind described by J. W. Dunne. Many aspects of dream imagery appear to be a visual presentation of individual psychic problems. Increasing evidence from out-of-the-body travel experiences has convinced some researchers of the reality of astral travel and of its stimulus through dream images. It may well be, as noted in several religious traditions, that there are also meta-physical dimensions to dream experience.

More than a century has passed since Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) was first published. Its main premise, holding with Freud's conception of the unconscious mind, was that dreams are the symbolic fulfillment of repressed childhood desires. Although the book's sales were abysmally slow for its first several years in print and, despite the holes in Freud's theory that are obvious today, Interpretation of Dreams has greatly influenced Western thought and culture and is now considered by some dream analysts to be the bible of dream studies. Bookstores have long carried dream dictionaries that offer interpretations of nearly any and every symbol or image seen in a dream. Modern dream studies have demonstrated, if anything, that the evaluation of dreams is far more complex than these popular dream interpretation manuals even begin to suggest. To address a more educated society, recent dream manuals offer more in-depth in their analysis of dream interpretation with many concentrating on awareness of hidden messages and awakening the unconscious mind.


Artemidorus. The Interpretation of Dreams: Oneirocritica. Translated by Robert White. Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Press, 1975.

Cartwright, Rosalind D. Night Life: Explorations in Dreaming. Englewood, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977.

Christmas, Henry. The Cradle of the Twin Giants, Science and History. 2 vols. London, 1849.

Colquohoun, John C. An History of Magic, Witchcraft & Animal Magnetism. 2 vols. N.p., 1851.

De Becker, R. The Meaning of Dreams. London, 1968.

Diamond, E. The Science of Dreams. London, 1962.Dunne, J. W. An Experiment with Time. London, 1927.

Ellis, Havelock. The World of Dreams. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922. Reprint, Detroit: Gale Research, 1976.

Faraday, Ann. Dream Power. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972. Reprint, New York: Berkeley, 1973.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. London, 1942.

Garfield, Patricia L. Creative Dreaming. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974.

Green, Celia E. Lucid Dreams. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968.

Hutchinson, H. Dreams and their Meanings. London, 1901.Jung, C. G. Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Collected Works, vol. 9. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959.

Kelsey, Morton T. God, Dreams, and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1974.

LaBerge, Steven. Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Being Awake and Aware in Your Dreams. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987.

Lang, Andrew. The Book of Dreams & Ghosts. London, 1897. Reprint, New York: Causeway Books, 1974.

Lawrence, Lauren. Dream Keys: Unlocking the Power of Your Unconcious Mind. New York: Dell Publishing, 1999.

Lincoln, J. S. The Dream in Primitive Cultures. London, 1935. Reprint, Academic Press, 1970.

Luce, Gay Gaer. Body Time. Pantheon, 1961.

Luce, Gay Gaer, and J. Segal. Sleep. New York: Coward, McCann, 1966.

Lukeman, Alex. What Your Dreams Can Teach You. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1997.

Muldoon, Sylvan J., and Hereward Carrington. The Projection of the Astral Body. London, 1929. Reprint, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1967.

Nikhilananda, Swami, trans. Mandukya Upanishad. Chicago: Vedanta Press, 1972.

Pohle, Nancy C. Awakening the Real You: Awareness Through Dreams and Intuition. Virginia Beach, Va.: A.R.E. Press, 1999.

Priestley, J. B. Man and Time. London, 1964. Reprint, New York: Dell, 1971.

Ratcliff, A. J. J. A History of Dreams. London, 1913.Sabin, Katharine C. ESP and Dream Analysis. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1974.

Seafield, Frank. The Literature & Curiosities of Dreams. 2nd ed. London, 1877.

Staff, V. S. Remembered on Waking; Concerning Psychic & Spiritual Dreams & Theories of Dreaming. Crowborough, UK: V. S. Staff, 1975.

Tart, Charles, ed. Altered States of Consciousness. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969.

Tolson, Jay. "The Bible of Dreams Turns 100." US News & World Report. Vol. 127, No. 18. pp. 79.

Ullman, Montague, Stanley Krippner, and Alan Vaughan. Dream Telepathy. New York: Turnstone Books; London: Macmillan, 1973.


views updated May 29 2018


The process of dreaming

Dream interpretation

Experimental studies of dreams


Dreaming is a unique form of behavior. It ordinarily occurs only during sleep and may be the only psychological activity that does occur during sleep. It is involuntary and unintentional in the usual meaning of these words. Customarily, it is not accompanied by, and does not eventuate in, appropriate, relevant, or purposeful overt activity. Dreaming is expressed in the form of hallucinatory imagery that is predominantly visual and is often very vivid and lifelike in nature. It is this hallucinatory experience that constitutes the dream. No other human experience seems to have excited so much interest or so much speculation regarding its cause.

Until recently, the process of dreaming was not directly accessible to scientific investigation; no one knew how to tell when a person was dreaming. Nevertheless, one could study the product of dreaming—the dream—when it was reported or described by the dreamer upon his awakening. Today, we can tell with almost complete certainty when a person is dreaming. The dream itself, however, still remains virtually inaccessible to direct investigation and will remain inaccessible until the invention of some means of transcribing the dream as it is taking place. Until that time, investigators must depend upon the dreamer to communicate his dream verbally or through some other medium. Studies of dreams, therefore, are actually studies of reported dreams. How much correspondence there is between the dream as reported and the dream as dreamed cannot, as yet, be determined. We know now that failure to recall a dream does not mean that the person has had a dreamless sleep. In fact, except under certain abnormal conditions, everyone dreams every night, having from four to six separate dreams.

The process of dreaming

Objective study of eye movements

The process of dreaming, as distinguished from the product, was made available for scientific study by the discovery of objective indicators of dreaming. The first of these was reported in 1953 by E. Aserinsky and N. Kleitman, who noted while observing sleeping subjects that bursts of rapid eye movements (REMs) occurred periodically during sleep. Kleitman later described this fruitful discovery:

In our laboratory at the University of Chicago we literally stumbled on an objective method of studying dreaming while exploring eye motility in adults, after we found that in infants eye movements persisted for a time when all discernible body motility ceased. Instead of direct inspection, as was done for infant eye movements, those of adult sleepers were recorded indirectly, to insure undisturbed sleep in the dark. By leads from two skin spots straddling the eye to an EEG machine, located in an adjacent room, it was possible to register potential differences whenever the eye moved in its socket. … By this method … slow eye movements were found to be related to general body motility. In addition, jerky rapid eye movements …, executed in only a fraction of a second and binocularly symmetrical, tended to occur in clusters for 5 to 60 minutes several times during a single night’s sleep. In order to correlate the REMs with other concomitants, simultaneous recordings were made of changes in the sleepers’ EEG, pulse, and respiration. It was soon apparent that the REMs were associated with a typical low-voltage EEG pattern and statistically significant increases in the heart and respiratory rates … though occasionally the pulse was slowed. These changes suggested some sort of emotional disturbance, such as might be caused by dreaming. To test this supposition, sleepers were aroused and interrogated during, or shortly after the termination of, REMs and they almost invariably reported having dreamed. If awakened in the absence of REMs, … they seldom recalled dreaming. (Kleitman 1963, pp. 93–94)

Like most discoveries, the correlation of eye movements with dreaming was not unanticipated. In 1892, G. T. Ladd tentatively concluded on the basis of introspective studies that the eyes move during dreaming, and many years later, E. Jacobson (1938) corroborated Ladd’s introspections by actually observing that the eyes do move during dreaming. Despite these historical antecedents, it was the findings of Aserinsky and Kleitman that launched the modern era of dream research, just as half a century earlier it had been Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) that established the dream as the main vehicle for studying the operations and products of unconscious processes.

Why do the eyes move during dreaming? The best answer seems to be that the eyes are scanning the dream scene, just as the eyes of a person who is awake scan the visual field. There is some evidence to support this scanning hypothesis. Dreams that involve much action are reported after a REM period in which there are many large eye movements, whereas more passive dreams are correlated with smaller eye movements (Berger & Oswald 1962). In some instances, the direction of the eye movement has been shown to correspond with the direction of the movements in the reported dream (Dement & Wolpert 1958). For example, following a REM period in which only vertical eye movements were recorded, the subject reported a dream of looking alternately down at the sidewalk and up toward the top of a flight of stairs.

Dreaming and sleep cycles

Not only is dreaming a unique form of behavior, but it also occurs during a unique stage of sleep. Unlike any of the other stages, the one during which dreaming occurs is characterized not only by bursts of rapid, conjugate movements of both eyes and by a low-voltage EEC pattern but also by other physiological and behavioral concomitants. Breathing and heart rate tend to be irregular, and the muscles of the throat adjacent to the larynx become flaccid, although, interestingly, the penis becomes more erect. The electrical resistance of the skin, which is ordinarily high during sleep, is reported to be even higher during so-called dreaming sleep. All of this evidence suggests that the stage during which dreaming occurs may be, as one authority has stated, “a separate organismic state, different from both ‘nondreaming’ sleeping and from waking” (Snyder 1963).

Dreaming is cyclical throughout the sleep period, with from four to six such cycles occurring during the night. The first cycle appears approximately an hour after a person falls asleep, and succeeding ones occur about every 90 minutes. The length of successive REM periods increases from 5 to 10 minutes for the first one to 30 minutes or longer for the last one. This finding revokes the common belief that a dream lasts for only a few seconds. In fact, some recent evidence suggests that what transpires in a dream occupies approximately the same length of time as it would were the same events to occur in waking life.

Although a hallucinatory dream experience is rarely reported if a person is awakened when eye movements are lacking, some investigators have obtained thoughtlike reports from persons who were awakened during non-REM periods. In one such study the subjects compared their reports of non-REM periods with those obtained from dreaming sleep. They found that their reports of non-REM periods were more difficult to recall, were more plausible and less emotional, were more concerned with contemporary events, and, generally speaking, resembled thinking more than dreaming (Rechtschaffen et al. 1963.) It has been suggested that the thinking the subject reports on being awakened from a non-REM period occurs while the sleeper is being awakened and does not reflect mental activity during sleep itself.


By employing the objective indicators of dreaming in studies involving numerous subjects, investigators in the United States and abroad have established that everyone dreams every night. Exceptions to this have been noted when the subject is in an abnormal state, such as during a high fever or when certain drugs have been administered. Even people who say they have never dreamed or who rarely remember a dream will report dreams when they are awakened during a rapid-eye-movement period (Goodenough et al. 1959).

A young adult spends about one-fifth of the sleep period dreaming, babies considerably more, and older people less. Rapid eye movements have been observed in blind people whose blindness is not of long standing. In those who have been blind for several years, low-voltage EEG waves still occur and a nonvisual type of dream is reported when the blind person is awakened (Berger et al. 1962). Other animals besides man show cyclical periods of rapid eye movements during sleep.

Biological necessity? One of the most interesting findings resulting from the use of objective indicators of dreaming is that when a person’s dreaming is reduced by awakening him every time his eyes begin to move, there is a significant increase in REM time when he is finally permitted to sleep undisturbed (Dement 1960). Moreover, if a person is deprived of dreaming for a number of nights, his waking behavior appears to be adversely affected. He manifests various aberrant “symptoms” that border on being pathological, and it has been conjectured that if he were deprived of dreams long enough, he might become psychotic. These results seem to indicate a “need to dream,” comparable in its psychobiological insistence to any of the other basic needs of the individual.

One authority believes, however, it may be the kind of sleep and not the dreaming itself that is the biological necessity (Snyder 1963). Support for this hypothesis is found in the work of the French investigator Jouvet, who has observed periods of eye movements and low-voltage waves in decorticate cats (Jouvet 1961) and in decorticate humans (Jouvet et al. 1961). It is considered unlikely that either a decorticate cat or a decorticate person is capable of having dreams, yet the physiological concomitants of dreaming persist in the decorticate state. It is these physiological processes and not the dreaming that Snyder considers to be the biological necessity.

External events

The availability of indicators of dreaming will enable investigators to observe the effects of certain stimuli upon dreaming. Studies made prior to the discovery of objective indicators showed that experimentally introduced discrete stimuli had, for the most part, very little influence upon the dream (Ramsey 1953). They may appear either directly or in distorted form in the dream, but they do not instigate, control, or shape the substance of the dream. Preliminary studies using the objective indicators have produced similar results, namely, that such external stimuli as sounds, pressures, and temperature changes have little influence on the dream. It is believed, however, that more complex forms of stimulation, such as movies shown to a person before he retires, will influence dreams. It is an established fact that the experimental situation for monitoring sleep becomes represented in dreams, especially during the subject’s initial nights in the laboratory. It will now be possible also to determine whether the sleeping person is more sensitive to telepathic or clairvoyant influences, as some authorities believe, by noting the appearance of subliminal stimuli in his dreams.

One question that is being investigated is whether the dreams obtained from persons whose sleep is monitored can be compared with dreams remembered by them upon awakening from non-monitored sleep. Preliminary findings indicate that the two samples are not comparable. A related question is whether the dreams of a person throughout the night show any consistent pattern of thematic material. Again preliminary findings suggest that there are minimal correspondences among a person’s dreams of the same night.

Dream interpretation

Interpretation before Freud

Although Freud was not the first person to assume that the dream has a “deeper” meaning—such an assumption seems always to have existed—he was the first to develop an empirical method for “interpreting” a dream. Dream interpreters before Freud—men like Artemidorus, who is Credited with being the first compiler of a dream book, and Joseph, whose exploits are recounted in the Bible—depended upon intuition, wisdom, and a scholarly knowledge of dream lore for deriving significance from the dream. Elements in a dream were assumed by these ancient dream interpreters to have a fixed meaning. It is this assumption that underlies dream books. Although dream books, with their prophecies of good and bad fortune, have fallen into disrepute among educated people, they are still published and purchased in large quantities and influence the decisions of many people (Weiss 1944). Among societies lacking books, dream interpreters still flourish and enjoy great prestige for their knowledge of a phenomenon deemed to be steeped in personal and even social relevance. There are societies like the Senoi in which people tell each other their dreams for the express purpose of reducing interpersonal tensions (Steward 1951).

That the dream among all the cognitive activities of man should be singled out as possessing special and mysterious properties, and requiring as a consequence special and often supernatural explanations, is not surprising when one considers how unique the dream is. For example, the ancient theory that the dream is a record of the experiences of a soul that leaves the body during sleep is based upon the fact that many dreams are so vivid and lifelike that they are mistaken for real perceptions.

Also, in view of the fact that the dream appears as an alien visitation without warning and without intention during the dead of sleep, a condition that is itself charged with mystery, it is not difficult to comprehend why many people construe the dream as a prophetic message from supernatural beings, from the sleeping person’s ancestors, or, in the present age of science fiction, from people living on other planets. Other prescientific theories that purport to explain dreaming are based upon other equally singular features of the dream.

Freud’s theory

Freud’s empirical method for interpreting a dream involves free association. After a person reports a dream to his analyst, he is instructed to say everything that comes into his mind when each successive element of the dream is presented back to him. By using the method of free association with his patients’ dreams, Freud (1900) was able to formulate a comprehensive theory of the dream. The dream has two kinds of content: the manifest (conscious) content, which is the dream as experienced and remembered by the dreamer, and the latent (unconscious) content, which is discovered through free association. Dream interpretation involves replacing the manifest with the latent content. The nucleus of the latent content is an unconscious infantile wish with which later experiences have become implicated. The ultimate task of interpretation is to unearth the nuclear infantile wish through free association. Much of the latent content consists, however, of “day residue,” that is, memories of experiences and thoughts that the dreamer has had on the day previous to the dream. Day residue alone is not sufficient to create a dream; it must be charged by an infantile wish in order to transform it into the conscious imagery of a dream.

When the dream thoughts (latent content) are transformed into the manifest content of the recalled dream, they are altered in certain ways. They are subject to condensation; an element in the manifest dream may be a compression of several dream thoughts. They are subject to displacement; feeling associated with a particular dream thought is transferred to an otherwise neutral element in the manifest dream. Latent thoughts may also be represented in the experienced dream by symbols. The interpretation of a dream requires, then, that all of the condensed manifest elements be expanded into their constituent dream thoughts, that all displaced affects be traced to their proper sources in the latent content, and that referents be found for all symbols. This is a formidable undertaking, the result of which is an interpreted version that is many times longer than the text of the manifest dream. The practicability of this method of interpreting dreams appears to be restricted to long-term psychotherapy.

Freud hypothesized that the dream work, which consists of the operations for transforming latent into manifest content is governed by two aims: regard for representability and disguise. Regard for representability refers to the transformation of abstract dream thoughts into concrete dream imagery. The aim of disguise is protection, based on the assumption that the undisguised latent thoughts would evoke so much anxiety that the dreamer would awaken. Many dreams do, in fact, awaken the sleeper because they are not sufficiently disguised. The sleep-protection hypothesis is a biological one, for it explains not what we dream but why we dream.

Dreams, then, according to Freud’s theory, are useful in establishing the contents of the unconscious. Since the foundation of the unconscious is laid down early in life, before the age of five or six, and contains repressed material from the psycho-sexual stages, the analysis of dreams constitutes one of the few methods for studying early psychological development. That the unconscious may also contain material from the racial past was discussed by Freud, but he neither strongly affirmed nor denied the notion, although he seems to have been sympathetic to it.

Jung’s theory

It remained for one of Freud’s early associates (later an apostate), Carl Jung, to examine dreams for evidence of a racial uncon scious that all men share (Jung 1960). Jung was convinced that there was sufficient evidence in dreams and other types of material, e.g., myths and religion, to validate the concept of a collective unconscious. He called the contents of this unconscious “archetypes” and identified a number of them: the anima, the shadow, the earth mother, the wise old man, and, most important of all, the archetype of personal unity symbolically represented in dreams and elsewhere by the form of the mandala. Whereas Freud used dreams to explore the formative years of a person’s life, Jung used them to explore the psychological development of the race.

Jung also thought, in contradistinction to Freud, that dreams are oriented to the future as well as to the past. They mark out for the individual the proper path to a more complete actualization of personality and help reveal poorly developed parts of the personality.

Other theories

In addition to the theories of Freud and Jung, there are a number of other theories, for example, those of Hall (1953), French (1954), Hadfield (1954), Boss (1953), Ullman (1955; 1958; 1959), and Jones (1962). These have several features in common. They deal more with the manifest than with the latent content, and they are more concerned with the dream as an expression having adaptive significance for the dreamer than as a disguise for infantile wishes. Hall, for example, regards the dream as a concrete representation of the dreamer’s conception of himself, of others, and of his world. The dream reveals more than it conceals. French stresses the integrative role played by the dream. The dreamer is attempting to solve his emotional problems. Hadfield also sees the dream as problem-solving activity, and Ullman emphasizes the dream’s adaptive function. For Boss, an existential–phenomenological therapist, the dream is a confrontation experience in which the dreamer faces directly his own questions of existence as a unique experiencing self. In the most recent of these theoretical formulations, Jones describes the synthesizing function of the dream within the context of a developmental sequence of critical phases through which a person passes in growing up.

It would seem from these theories that the dream was a complex, multidimensional, multileveled phenomenon capable of supporting diverse theoretical superstructures. The dream may, in fact, be just such a complex phenomenon, although the ratio of research to speculation is still so small that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions regarding the validity of these speculations. Although research is scanty, the usefulness of dream analysis in psycho-analytic and other forms of psychotherapy seems to be generally acknowledged by psychotherapists (Bonime 1962).

Experimental studies of dreams

The dream as a projective device

It is not possible to say just how much research on dreams has been deterred by Freud’s distinction between manifest and latent content and by the complex set of operations that must be carried out under a very special type of relationship between the observer and the subject before the operations can be successful. There are indications that these methodological obstacles are being bypassed by treating the manifest dream as significant material in its own right (Hall 1947; Eggan 1952; Jones 1962). This approach regards the dream, or preferably a series of dreams, as a projective device similar to those of the Rorschach and story-telling techniques. It may be argued that the dream is almost a pure form of projection, since external stimuli seem to have so little to do with its formation or its content.

The projective approach may be illustrated by a study made by Hall and Van de Castle (1965). Following Freud’s theory of sex differences in psycho-sexual development, they hypothesized that there would be a greater frequency of castration anxiety in dreams reported by males and that there would be a greater incidence of castration wish and penis envy in dreams reported by females. Scales for identifying castration anxiety, castration wish, and penis envy in dream reports were developed, and a large number of male and female dream series were scored using these scales. The hypotheses were confirmed at a high level of significance.

Another study employing the same methodology was conducted by Beck and Hurvich (1959). They predicted that depressed patients would show a greater incidence of manifest dreams with masochistic content than would nondepressed patients. A collection of dreams secured from depressed and nondepressed patients was scored, and the hypothesis was confirmed at an appropriate level of significance.

This method of dream analysis has much to recommend it. Dream reports can easily be collected in large numbers from groups of people living under different cultural, economic, social, educational, and geographical conditions. They can be subjected to quantification, and the same set of dreams can be analyzed in many ways to serve different empirical and theoretical purposes. Norms for different populations can be established so that an individual’s deviation from the norms for the group may be accurately described. The influence of experimental manipulation of variables can be assessed by comparing a treated group with a control one.

Of particular significance for the social sciences is the comparison of dreams obtained from people living in different cultures. Dorothy Eggan’s pioneering efforts in studying the dreams of Hopi Indians show what can be done by correlating the themes of reported dreams with culturally relevant material (1961).

The objective method of analyzing dreams

It is to be expected that the availability of objective indicators of dreaming will prove a stimulant to research and increase our knowledge of dreams and dreaming in the future. The physiological emphasis so far in research probably reflects the fact that rapid eye movements and brain waves were discovered by physiologists and that their measurement employs apparatus that is more familiar to physiologists than to social and behavioral scientists.

Calvin Hall

[Other relevant material may be found inAnalytical psychology; Nervous system, article onelectroencephalography; Projective methods; Psychoanalysis; Sleep; and in the biography ofJung.]


Aserinsky, Eugene; and Kleitman, Nathaniel 1953 Regularly Occurring Periods of Eye Motility, and Concomitant Phenomena During Sleep. Science 118:273–274.

Beck, Aaron T.; and Hurvich, Marvin 1959 Psychological Correlates of Depression: 1. Frequency of “Masochistic” Dream Content in a Private Practice Sample. Psychosomatic Medicine 21:50–55.

Berger, Ralph J.; Olley, P.; and Oswald, Ian 1962 The EEC, Eye-movements and Dreams of the Blind. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 14: 183–186.

Berger, Ralph J.; and Oswald, Ian 1962 Eye Movements During Active and Passive Dreams. Science 137:601 only.

Bonime, Walter 1962 The Clinical Use of Dreams. New York: Basic Books.

Boss, Medard (1953) 1958 The Analysis of Dreams. New York: Philosophical Library. → First published as Der Traum und seine Auslegung.

Dement, William 1960 The Effect of Dream Deprivation. Science 131:1705–1707.

Dement, William; and Wolpert, Edward 1958 The Relation of Eye Movements, Body Motility, and External Stimuli to Dream Content. Journal of Experimental Psychology 55:543–553.

Diamond, Edwin 1962 The Science of Dreams. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → This book, written by the science editor of Newsweek, is a popularized account of recent dream studies.

Eggan, Dorothy 1952 The Manifest Content of Dreams: A Challenge to Social Science. American Anthropologist New Series 54:469–485.

Eggan, Dorothy 1961 Dream Analysis. Pages 550–577 in Bert Kaplan (editor), Studying Personality Cross-culturally. Evanston, III.: Row, Peterson.

French, Thomas M. 1954 The Integration of Behavior. Volume 2: The Integrative Process in Dreams. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Freud, Sigmund (1900) 1953 The Interpretation of Dreams. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan; London: Hogarth. → Constitutes Volumes 4 and 5 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.

Fromm, Erich 1951 The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales and Myths. New York: Holt.

Goodenough, Donald A. et al. 1959 A Comparison of “Dreamers” and “Nondreamers”: Eye Movements, Electroencephalograms, and the Recall of Dreams. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 59:295–302.

Hadfield, James A. 1954 Dreams and Nightmares. Baltimore: Penguin.

Hall, Calvin S. 1947 Diagnosing Personality by the Analysis of Dreams. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 42:68–79.

Hall, Calvin S. 1953 The Meaning of Dreams. New York: Harper.

Hall, Calvin S.; and Van de Castle, R. L. 1965 An Empirical Investigation of the Castration Complex in Dreams. Journal of Personality 33:22–29.

Jacobson, Edmund 1938 You Can Sleep Well: The ABC’s of Restful Sleep for the Average Person. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Jones, Richard M. 1962 Ego Synthesis in Dreams. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman.

Jouvet, M. 1961 Telencephalic and Rhombencephalic Sleep in the Cat. Pages 188–208 in Ciba Foundation, Symposium on the Nature of Sleep. Edited by G. E. W. Wolstenholme and Maeve O’Connor. Boston: Little.

Jouvet, M.; Pellin, B.; and Mounier, D. 1961 Étude polygraphique des différentes phases du sommeil au cours des troubles de conscience chronique (comas prolongés). Revue neurologique 105:181–186.

Jung, Carl G. 1960 Collected Works. Volume 8: The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. New York: Pantheon. → Contains works first published between 1916 and 1954.

Kleitman, Nathaniel 1963 Sleep and Wake fulness. Rev. & enl. ed. Univ. of Chicago Press. → Extracted matter is reproduced by permission. © 1939, 1963 by the University of Chicago.

Ladd, George T. 1892 Contribution to the Psychology of Visual Dreams. Mind New Series 1:299–304.

Ramsey, Glenn V. 1953 Studies of Dreaming. psychological Bulletin 50:432–455.

Rechtschaffen, Allan; Verdone, Paul; and Wheaton, Joy 1963 Reports of Mental Activity During Sleep. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal 8:409–414.

Snyder, Frederick 1963 The New Biology of Dreaming. Archives of General Psychiatry 8:381–391.

Steward, Kilton 1951 Dream Theory in Malaya. Complex: The Magazine of Psychoanalysis and Related Matters 6:21–33.

Ullman, Montague (1955) 1958 The Dream Process. American Journal of Psychotherapy 12:671–690. → This paper was originally published in expanded form in Psychotherapy, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1955.

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Almost all of us have had dreams, yet few could say with confidence what they are, beyond agreeing that they occur during sleep and have some likeness to waking experience. Yet most people would in all probability accept the kind of definition given by philosophers, for example Plato's "visions within us, which are remembered by us when we are awake and in the external world" (Timaeus, 46a) or Aristotle's "the dream is a kind of imagination, and, more particularly, one which occurs in sleep" (De Somniis, 462a). Indeed, such notions seem to be summarized in the Oxford Dictionary 's definition: "A train of thoughts, images, or fancies passing through the mind during sleep; a vision during sleep." Dreams are striking phenomena, and the more superstitious see in them signs and portents of what is to happen; even today divination by dreams has not lost its popularity. A more sophisticated way of looking at dreams is to regard them as revealing something about the sleeper, either about his physical condition or about his mental state. An example of the former can be seen in the diagnostic technique used in the temple of Aesculapius; patients seeking a cure had to sleep all night in the temple precincts and would experience a "vision" that would indicate the disease or its cure. Many writers had suggested that mental states were revealed by dreams, but there was little serious study of the idea until the work of Sigmund Freud and his followers. Freud's doctrine of the unconscious, and the way in which it is revealed in dreams and other less rational activities, is important for psychiatry; but he had little to say about the nature of dreams that is of interest to the philosopher, though the fact that they had been found worthy of study may have resulted in an increase in philosophic concern about the problems they raise.

While we are having them, dreams often appear to be as real as waking experience; children have to be told that the object of their terror "was only a dream," hence not part of the world. William James expressed this well in his Principles of Psychology : "The world of dreams is our real world whilst we are sleeping, because our attention then lapses from the sensible world. Conversely, when we wake the attention usually lapses from the dream-world and that becomes unreal." This similarity has led philosophers to pose the question, "How can you prove whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?" (Plato, Theaetetus, 158). In perhaps the most famous example of the difficulty of distinguishing dreams from reality, René Descartes introduced his method of universal doubt. He concluded, "I see so manifestly that there are no certain indications by which we may clearly distinguish wakefulness from sleep that I am lost in astonishment" (First Meditation ). Descartes finally resolved his doubts in this respect by appealing to a criterion of consistency: "For at present I find a very notable difference between the two, inasmuch as our memory can never connect our dreams with one another, or with the whole course of our lives, as it unites events which happen to us while we are awake" (Sixth Meditation ). Such a consistency criterion has been adopted by several more recent writers on the topic. Unfortunately, this will not do the task required, for consistency can only be used as a test of a particular experience by waiting to see what happens in the future. It would enable me to tell that I had been dreaming, not that I am now dreaming; for however confident I am of the reality of my surroundings, something may happen in the future that will reveal them to be part of a dream. Further, the problem remains whether any consistency discovered is a real or a dreamed one.

The failure of consistency to provide a test need not be worrying, for the times in which genuine doubt arises are normally those involving memoryI am not sure if this event actually happened or whether I dreamed it. In such a case I would normally try to remember some part of the event that would have left a mark in the physical world, and then see if there is such a trace of the event; if there is nothing, I conclude that I had dreamed the occurrence. In spite of Descartes's remark, it is rare that we are in doubt about whether we are dreaming. The expression "I must be dreaming" is normally used in circumstances when I am quite sure that I am not dreaming, to express surprise at some pleasant occurrence, for example the arrival of a friend whom I thought to be somewhere distant. There are times when we are aware that we are dreaming, though normally a dream presents itself as real and no questions about its genuineness arise. It seems that the conviction that one is dreaming does not come from a previous doubt within the dream about the status of the experience; it just occurs, though sometimes accompanied with a feeling of relief. But in most cases the dream convinces us that it is reality, in that no doubt or questioning arises during its course. The difference between dreams and hallucinations lies in the fact that there is nothing external to dreams with which they can be compared, no tests that can be applied. For if we did apply a test in a dream, the result would be to confirm its reality. Philosophers have sought for some mark or test that would solve this problem, but there is none available. Any suggested sign of reality could be duplicated in the dream, and if all dreams bore marks of unreality, then there could not even be confusion over the remembering of them.

It has been generally agreed that dreams are due to the workings of the imagination no longer under the control of the intellect or the senses, as can be seen from the quotations at the beginning of this article; but it would seem that in such contexts the meaning of the word "imagination" had been left vague, serving rather as an indication of puzzlement than as a solution to a problem. Some recent work by physiologists has led to the suggestion (by W. Dement and N. Kleitman) that dreaming is correlated with rapid eye movements during sleep. Such a suggestion would seem to confirm Aristotle's remark that "dreaming is an activity of the sensitive faculty, but of it as being imaginative" (459a). The use of a physiological criterion for dreams has been challenged by Norman Malcolm in his book Dreaming (1959), which is clearly the most important contemporary discussion of the whole topic. In the course of it he challenges virtually all the assumptions made by previous philosophers. In criticism of the physiological work, he asserts that waking testimony is the sole criterion of dreaming (p. 81). The obvious difficulties that arise from the common belief that external stimuli can cause or influence the course of a dream, or that observers can sometimes tell from bodily movements that a sleeper is having a violent dream, he dismisses by means of a definition that dreams can take place only when the subject is sound asleep and that a person who is sleeping cannot respond to external stimuli (pp. 2526). It might be thought that Malcolm was here doing the same thing for which he criticizes the physiologists, namely introducing a new concept of dreaming, for surely the ordinary unsophisticated notion includes the possibility of our recognizing that someone asleep is having a dream, in some cases at least, as well as the possibility of the dreamer being aware that he is dreaming. If both of these beliefs are ruled out by a philosophical argument, then it would appear that the concept of dreaming held by most people has been changed in important ways. Most of the points made in the earlier part of this article would be understood by those with an unsophisticated notion of dreaming.

Malcolm's arguments are, however, powerful and subtle, and his critics, of whom A. J. Ayer is perhaps the most eminent, have found it not at all easy to refute them. Malcolm bases his reasoning on Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations, in particular on the dictum that "an 'inner process' stands in need of outward criteria" (I. § 580). Malcolm argues that we can come by the concept of dreaming only by learning it from descriptions of dreams, "from the familiar phenomenon that we call 'telling a dream'" (II, p. 55). To talk of "remembering a dream" is to use the word remember in a sense different from the normal, for there is no external criterion by which we can check our memory, as there is in the paradigm cases of remembering, that of remembering an event in the public world, which can be checked by ourselves and others. What is told sincerely on waking is the dream, because there is no other way of finding out what, if anything, occurred while the teller slept. (This can be compared with Freud's reliance on the narration of the dream, but this was essential for its use in diagnosis. Nevertheless, Freud was willing to evaluate critically the veracity of actual dream accounts on the basis of his theory or as a result of previous analysis of its dreamer. For most purposes, it made no difference whether the dream account or the dream itself was being considered; Freud's concern was with different problems.)

Yet Malcolm rejects Ayer's suggestion that this theory amounts to saying that "we do not dream, but only wake with delusive memories of experiences we have never had." Malcolm is clearly correct in stressing the importance of the report of a dream and its difference from reports of public events; what the dreamer says on waking is final. Though we must learn the use of the word dream in the way Malcolm indicates, this does not rule out the possibility of its use being extended by further experience, for instance, correlating dream reports with observations of the dreamer, as Dement and Kleitman have done. The trouble is Malcolm's use of the term criterion, which is never clearly explained, and which seems to lead him into a crude verificationism; he even talks of "the senselessness, in the sense of the impossibility of verification, of the notion of a dream as an occurrence" (p. 83). A further consequence of Malcolm's use of the dream report as a criterion for dreaming is that it becomes impossible to talk of children having dreams before they have learned to speak (p. 59). If, as Malcolm apparently wishes to maintain, words can be used only if their application can be strictly verified, then many ordinary uses will be cut out. That we now have a particular concept of some mental activity does not make it impossible that further experience will lead us to introduce a modification of it, in which case the way in which we first learned it may have no bearing on the criterion of its use. For example, many words used in the sciences are first learned in an approximate way and their criteria of application refined in the course of education. Malcolm claims that his argument applies only to words that refer to "inner" processes. What he seems to do, however, is extend Wittgenstein's argument, valid in the area Wittgenstein intended it for, beyond its legitimate sphere. The primary use of the word dreaming depends upon the notion of telling a dream, but this does not prevent an extended use. Peter Geach remarks that Wittgenstein mentioned in a lecture Lytton Strachey's description of Queen Victoria's dying thoughts: "He expressly repudiated the view that such a description is meaningless because 'unverifiable'; it has meaning, he said, but only through its connexion with a wider, public, 'language-game' of describing people's thoughts" (Mental Acts, p. 3). In fact it is only because we know what it is to dream that we can understand the difficulties raised by talk of "verifying" reports of dreams.

Ayer also criticizes Malcolm's denial that one can make assertions while asleep, but in this case with less effect. It does seem clear that the words "I am asleep" cannot be used to make a genuine assertion, because such an utterance would contradict what was asserted, just as the only possible truthful reply to the question, "Are you asleep?" is "No." An absence of reply is what would lead the questioner to assert that the man was really asleep.

In spite of Malcolm's statement (p. 66) that there is no place for an implication or assumption that a man is aware of anything at all while asleep, many would claim, and understand others' claims, that they had become aware that they were dreaming. This also implies that they were aware that they were asleep. As part of a dream narrative, such awareness could be reported by the words, "I suddenly realized that it was all a dream." Clearly, such an assertion could not be taught by ostensive means. However, there seems no reason why, having learned how to use the ordinary concept of dreaming and expressions such as "I suddenly realized that," we should not combine the two into an assertion that would be commonly understood to apply to a possible experience. Malcolm's claim that a person must be partially awake to be aware that he is dreaming (pp. 3844) seems, as suggested above, a redefinition of the term for which no adequate reason is advanced.

Malcolm wishes to say that the problem of what dreams are is a pseudo problem; he refuses to allow that they can be called experiences, illusions, workings of the imagination, or anything else they have been thought to be by previous philosophers. Ayer concludes his criticism of Dreaming by maintaining that dreams are experiences and mostly illusions, and "are found to be so by the same criteria that apply to illusions in general." This remark is difficult to understand; here Malcolm's stress on the report of the dream comes into its own; in recounting it I am not claiming that these things happened. Because while dreaming there is no possibility of making assertions about my experiences to other people, to describe dreams as illusions makes no sense. Malcolm has clearly made out his case in this respect. On the other hand, it seems difficult to deny that dreams are experiences, if only because the description is sufficiently vague to cover almost any "mental" phenomena. The same may be said of talking of dreams as being composed of images; here dreaming is being used as one of the examples of mental imagery, a vague concept. In spite of Malcolm's work, the problem of the nature of dreaming is still open for philosophic discussion, but any future examination of the problem will have to take his book fully into account. Many philosophers would still wish to assert that dreams occur, that they take place during sleep, while admitting that the meaning and justification of such claims is by no means clear.

See also Aristotle; Ayer, Alfred Jules; Descartes, René; Freud, Sigmund; Imagery, Mental; James, William; Malcolm, Norman; Plato; Psychoanalysis; Unconscious; Wittgenstein, Ludwig Josef Johann.


historical works

Aristotle. De Divinatione per Somnum (On Prophesying by Dreams ). Translated by J. I. Beare, in Works of Aristotle, Vol. III. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931.

Aristotle. De Somniis (On Dreams ). Ibid.

Bradley, F. H. "On My Real World." In Essays on Truth and Reality. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914.

Descartes, René. Meditationes de Prima Philosophia. In The Philosophical Works of Descartes, Vol. I, translated by E. S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross. Cambridge, U.K., 1934.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. Edited and translated by James Strachey. New York: Basic, 1955.

Freud, Sigmund. Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis. Translated by J. Riviere. London, 1949.

James, William. The Principles of Psychology. New York: Dover, 1950.

Malcolm, Norman. Dreaming. London: Routledge, 1959.

Plato. Theaetetus (158a). Translated by B. Jowett. Oxford, 1871.

Plato. Timaeus (46a). Ibid.

Russell, Bertrand. Our Knowledge of the External World. London, 1949.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. L'imaginaire. Psychologie phénoménologique de l'imagination. Paris: Gallimard, 1940. Translated by B. Frechtman as The Psychology of the Imagination. London, 1949.

Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by E. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell, 1953. Especially pp. 184, 222223. Also relevant is Malcolm's review of this work in Philosophical Review (October 1954): 530559.


Ayer, A. J. "Professor Malcolm on Dreams." Journal of Philosophy 57 (1960): 517535. Malcolm's reply and Ayer's rejoinder in ibid. 58 (1961): 294299.

Chappell, V. C. "The Concept of Dreaming." Philosophical Quarterly 13 (July 1963): 193213.

Dement, W., and N. Kleitman. "The Relation of Eye Movements during Sleep to Dream Activity: An Objective Method for the Study of Dreaming." Journal of Experimental Psychology 53 (1957): 339346.

MacDonald, M. "Sleeping and Waking." Mind 62 (April 1953): 202215.

Manser, A. R., and L. E. Thomas. "Dreams." Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Suppl. Vol. 30 (1956): 197228.

Putnam, H. "Dreaming and 'Depth Grammar.'" In Analytical Philosophy, edited by R. J. Butler. Oxford, 1962.

A. R. Manser (1967)


views updated Jun 27 2018


An illusory or hallucinatory psychic activity, particularly of a perceptual-visual nature, that occurs during sleep. It is essentially a psychological phenomenon with many philosophical, religious, and moral implications.

Meaning and Interpretation

People have always been fascinated by the mysterious phenomenon of dreams and, throughout history, have made innumerable attempts to penetrate behind the chaotic appearance of dreams and reach their hidden meaning. These attempts at interpretation were done on several levels, such as the religious, the philosophical, the psychological, and the clinical.

Early Civilizations. Almost all primitive and ancient peoples believed in the religious character of dreams. For them, dreams were vehicles of divine revelation. They imagined that, during sleep, the soul would leave the body, converse with other spirits and with gods, and receive their communications. In the Vedic religion there was the belief that the soul could get entangled in immoral actions. Therefore, after bad dreams, special rites of expiation were prescribed.

Divination through dreams (oneiromancy) was an important religious practice among the early peoples, particularly among the Assyro-Babylonians and Egyptians. Divination was carried out through incubation dreams in temples or through the private practice of magicians and dream interpreters. To facilitate the dream analysis, special handbooks were compiled containing oneirocritical rules and catalogues of dream symbols.

Greeks and Romans. In Greek literature there are many references to dreams. The practice of dream interpretation was a significant aspect of the Greek religious life. The Greek world knew several incubation temples, dedicated usually to Asclepius, god of medicine, in which the devotee spent the night and, through dreams, obtained pertinent information about his problems. The most famous of these incubation temples was that of Asclepius at Epidaurus. There were also professional dream interpreters (oneirocritai ) for whom special manuals of interpretation were compiled from the fourth century b.c. The most famous of the preserved manuals is the Oneirocritica written by Artemidorus of Daldis in the second century a.d. Perhaps the oldest Greek treatise on dreams is a work contained in the Hippocratic corpus. Although the author of this work does not deny the religious meaning of dreams, he admits that some dreams may reflect the physiological conditions of the organism. Some Greek philosophers, such as the Pythagoreans, Socrates, the Platonists, and many Stoics, believed in oneiromancy; others, particularly Aristotle and the Epicureans, rejected it.

For plato, fantastic and lawless dreams can easily be aroused by the "wild beast in us." According to Plato, before going to bed, one should awaken his rational powers and collect himself in meditation in order to avoid the experience of bad dreams. Further, Plato thinks that prophetic inspirations are not granted by the divinity to sane people in a waking state, but to people whose intelligence is either demented or enthralled in sleep. However, only a sane man may interpret prophetic dreams.

aristotle discusses dreams in the three works of his Parva naturalia: On Sleep and Wakefulness, On Dreams, and On Divination through Sleep. Dreams are a natural phenomenon because they are experienced by everyone, even by animals. Aristotle teaches that not every psychic experience during sleep is a dream, but only those representations that are aroused during sleep by faint residuary movements left in the organism by actual sense perceptions. Dreams are illusions produced by the conceptual fantasy and easily affected by strong emotions and by bodily disturbances. According to Aristotle, prophetic dreams can be explained through coincidence or through natural causes: a plan of activity can be initiated in a dream and later carried out in the waking state; symptoms of an incipient disease can be perceived for the first time in a dream; other dreams may be explained through some natural telepathic ability.

Among the Romans, where divination through dreams was a standard practice, cicero contested strongly the divine origin of dreams in his De divinatione. He claims that there is no connection between dreams and the natural course of events; a scientific method of fore-telling the future through dreams is impossible; oneiromancy is a superstition, and dreams do not deserve the slightest degree of respect.

Christianity. The Christian attitude toward dreams was molded by the Bible and may be formulated in the following statements. (1) The dream may be a legitimate vehicle of divine revelation, in which case God Himself provides for proofs attesting the divine origin of dreams. He also takes care of dream interpretation. (2) The majority of dreams are natural phenomena lacking in any special religious meaning. (3) Superstitious divination through dreams is severely forbidden by God as an immoral practice.

The Fathers and Doctors of the Church do not add anything new to the Biblical teaching on dreams. Occasionally they attempt a philosophical or psychological explanation of dream phenomena that reflects the views of Greek philosophers, particularly of Aristotle. St. augus tine discusses the problem of dreams in one of his letters to Nebridius (Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne [Paris 187890] 33:7173) and in De Genesi ad litteram (Patrologia Latina 34:470479). He attempts to explain that superior powers produce dreams in man by energizing latenter (in a secret or unconscious way) those traces of activity imprinted by the mind in the organism during the waking state. The supernatural powers use such traces to bring about dreams reflecting their intentions. St. Augustine admits that some dreams may have a psychological significance insofar as they reflect physiological or mental conditions of the dreamer ("men dream what they need"). St. thomas aquinas deals with dreams in connection with his discussion of superstition (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 95.6). Dreams can be understood best by considering the four causes that produce them: first, the internal spiritual cause of dreams, namely, all the mental activities of the waking state that may recur in dreams; second, internal and corporal causes dependent on the physical disposition of the body; third, external corporal causes that include all environmental conditions, particularly those of the atmosphere; fourth, external spiritual causesGod, angels, and demons. The devil can also reveal future events in dreams to those who have entered into a special compact with him.

Jewish and Islamic Tradition. Dream interpretation through natural means and through divination played an important role in the early Talmudic and Islamic traditions. Many rabbis believed that nothing important happens to a man that is not communicated to him through dreams. They had a saying according to which "a dreamless life is a sinful life." Many of the revelations attributed to Muammad took place in dreams. Some medieval Islamic theologians enumerate interpretation of dreams among accepted theological methods.

Modern Psychology. From W. wundt on, psychologists have been interested in dreams, both in the psychophysiological mechanisms that regulate the process of dreaming and in the value that dreams have for the understanding of human personality. In the mid-20th century, few psychologists would deny any psychological meaning to dreams. Divergences begin when psychologists start to theorize about the meaning of dreams.

Freud's Theory. Sigmund freud bestowed scientific respectability upon dream analysis, particularly with his work on the Interpretation of Dreams (1900). An essential feature of psychoanalytical treatment is to bring to the surface the repressed unconscious experiences that are often the source of neurotic conflicts. The main method for uncovering the unconscious is free association. Dream analysis was conceived by Freud as a subsidiary technique to facilitate and expedite free association. Soon it became the royal road to the knowledge of the unconscious psychic life. According to Freud, every dream has a meaning insofar as it is an attempted wish-fulfillment involving repressed sexual infantile urges. Its biological function is to preserve sleep by channeling the unfulfilled infantile wishes, which would disturb the sleep, into disguised modes of wish-fulfillment. Freud called the mechanism that regulates the disguise the censor. It consists of all the inhibitory and repressive tendencies that try to prevent the unconscious from emerging into consciousness. It is because of the work of the censor that every dream presents a double aspect, namely, the manifest content or the external dress of imagery in which the dream is recalled, and the latent content or the hidden meaning fraught with repressed infantile wishes, mostly of a libidinal nature. According to Freud, the following important mechanisms take part in the elaboration of a dream. (1) Condensation occurs when several meanings of the latent content are compressed into a single image of the manifest content. (2) Displacement takes place when the emotional charge is detached from its natural object and directed to a secondary object. (3) Dramatization consists in expressing conceptual ideas with concrete and plastic images. (4) Symbolization involves a concrete representation through an image of another concrete but hidden image, as when, in Freud's mind, a pointed object seen in a dream represents the male sexual organ. Many dream symbols are, according to Freud, independent from any individual interpretation and possess a universal meaning. (5) Secondary elaboration is a dream mechanism that attempts to bring some order and logical understanding into a dream during the process of recalling it.

Jung's Theory. C. G. jung introduced new conceptual breadth into dream interpretation. He was the first to analyze the dreams of a person in a sequential series, treating them as a meaningful whole and interpreting them on the basis of an internal consistency. For Jung, dreams reveal not only repressed infantile libidinal wishes, but manifest the whole human personality with its positive and negative characteristics, its past experiences, present attitudes, and future strivingsincluding the personal and collective unconscious. They have a compensatory function in the sense that tendencies neglected during waking life come into action in dreams. The Jungian interpretation of dreams is flexible, varies with every personality type, and does not rely too strongly on free association and typical symbolism.

Adler's Theory. Alfred Adler views in dreams the manifestation of a person's specific style of life, his particular way of asserting himself within the frame of his community. In contrast to Freud and in accordance with Jung, Adler stresses the value of dreams in understanding not only past experiences, but also present problems and future plannings. Dreams are particularly useful in studying the lifestyle because they are more spontaneous and uninhibited and less under the control of the reality of everyday life. At times, they may exert a harmful influence on the personality; thus, when the lifestyle is inadequate and the personality weak, the work of imagination as it occurs in dreams may consolidate wrong personality attitudes. In the interpretation of dream images, Adler stresses both the typical and the individual.

Other Trends. Freudian views and techniques have come to be considered by many psychologists and psychiatrists as too one-sided and too narrow-minded to be of real value in understanding and in helping the human personality. There is thus a tendency to enlarge Freud's theories by enriching them with insights from Jung, Adler, W. Stekel, T. French, the existentialists (L. Binswanger), and the experimentalists (C. S. Hall). The holistic concept of human personality is being extended even to dream analysis. This can be seen in the increased use of the dream-series method and in the stress on the total human experience as projected in dreamsnot only past events, but even present problems and attitudes and future strivings and goals. The language of dreams is said to express the unconscious and the conscious, the id and the ego forces, and the emotional, motivational, and cognitive layers of human personality. Hall finds the analysis of the manifest content of dreams much more rewarding than the delving into their latent content. M. Ullman considers the dream as one of the many roads leading toward the understanding of consciousness. J. L. Moreno wishes to add to the manifest and latent content of dreams a new dimension that he calls the "actional" aspect of dream. Dream becomes one of the psychodramatic techniques used by Moreno: instead of telling his dreams, Moreno's patients are encouraged to act them out.

Moral Questions

None of the psychological techniques of dream analysis is by its nature immoral; a technique's goodness depends upon the total clinical context in which its methods are being applied. Moral evaluation of dreams is concerned with the problems of divination, of moral responsibility, and of use in the spiritual life.

Divination. Foretelling of the future by means of a dream is legitimate if one is sure that the dream comes from God. One's attitudes toward such dreams should be the same as in the case of private visions and revelations. When divine intervention in a dream is excluded, then divination is an act of superstition because it involves, either explicitly or implicitly, an attempt to predict the future by means of demonic powers. The gravity of sin depends upon the amount of awareness, the degree of certainly about the prediction, and the more or less explicit intention of regulating one's life according to dreams. Ignorance and an implicit belief in some infallible natural means of knowing secrets and predicting the future, such as telepathy and precognition, can easily excuse from sin.

Moral Responsibility. Neither merit nor demerit can be acquired through dream behavior. Man's critical and deliberative ability is so reduced during sleep that he is not morally responsible for whatever may happen, nor can he reasonably assume any antecedent responsibility (in causa ) because there is no specific type of activity in human behavior that has a necessary connection with any of man's dreams.

Use in Spiritual Life. The old Platonic view that virtuous people have virtuous dreams found its echo in many ascetic authors and theologians, such as St. john climacus, John cassian, and Diego alvarez de paz. Even St. Thomas Aquinas states that "the virtuous come to have better visions in dreams than those who are not virtuous" (Der ver. 28.3 ad 7). Particularly in the area of chastity, some claim that absence of impure dreams is a sign of perfect and consummate virtue. P. Meseguer seems to favor this opinion, adducing as the psychological and theological explanation the so-called law of progressive impregnation; this measures the degree according to which the law of grace succeeds in permeating man's whole nature, even his unconscious tendencies. It is not quite certain whether or not this law can be applied to dreams. A person cannot talk about dreams in general, but only about dreams as he recalls them. It is known from research that the recall of dreams is regulated by selective factors rooted in the personality structure. Until more is known about the dynamics of dreams and about the relationship between conscious and unconscious life, great caution should regulate attempts to use dreams as a technique of spiritual guidance.

See Also: psychology.

Bibliography: t. hopfner, Paulya Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 6A.2 (1937) 223345. g. m. bolling, j. hastings, ed. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (Edinburgh 190827) 4:775830; 5:2840. s. freud, The Interpretation of Dreams, ed. and tr. j. strachey and a. freud (London 1961; repr. of v.45 of standard ed. 1953). c. g. jung, Psychology of the Unconscious, tr. b. hinkle (New York 1916; repr. 1963); Symbols of Transformation: An Analysis of the Prelude to a Case of Schizophrenia, tr. r. f. c. hull (Bollingen Ser. 20; New York 1956) rev. ed. of Psychology of the Unconscious. a. adler, The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, ed. H. L. and r. r. ansbacher (New York 1956). d. brower and l. e. abt, eds., Progress in Clinical Psychology (New York 1952) 4:239257; 5:88111. n. kleitman, Sleep and Wakefulness (Chicago 1939; rev. and enl. 1963). c. s. hall, The Meaning of Dreams (New York 1953). r. la roche, La Divination: Avec un supplément sur la superstition en Afrique Centrale (Washington 1957). p. meseguer, The Secret of Dreams, tr. p. burns (Westminster, Md.1960).

[a. m. cuk]


views updated Jun 11 2018


The connection of dreams to religion might be best summarized by the widespread notion that "the gods speak through dreams." Dreams are relevant to the experiential dimension of religion, which encompasses many phenomena involving "altered states of consciousness." The 1969 work of the same name edited by Charles Tart covers dreams, meditation, hypnosis, and mystical experience. All of these rarefied states have been cultivated through history by adepts seeking religious visions. Interest in such ethereal states of mind has grown enormously in the United States since the 1960s by seekers and scholars alike.

A few prominent dreams have been recorded in the Hebrew Bible, notably Jacob's dream (at Genesis 28:12) of the ladder reaching to heaven with angelic beings ascending and descending on it, a nice representation of the notion of the accessibility of the divine through dreams. As the history of Judaism continues and Christianity is born, we see fewer references to dreams. In the New Testament, Jesus prefers the language of parables to dreams.

There are some references to dreams in ancient cultures, attested by an Egyptian papyrus on dream interpretation, held by the British Museum (Beatty Papyrus 3) and the Oneirocritica (Art of Judging Dreams), a dream handbook in Greek by the second-century physician Artemidorus. There is also the curious practice evidenced on many steles at temples of Asclepios, of sleeping in open porticoes of the temples of the god of healing. Patients would ask the god for a cure for specific medical problems, and these would be communicated through dreams, showing nicely the therapeutic value of dreams.

Probably the greatest emphasis on dreams is found in shamanic traditions of indigenous peoples across the world. Shamans have perennially utilized dreams and other altered states to facilitate "celestial journeying" on various missions. In Australian aboriginal culture, "dream time" is considered just as real if not more so than waking consciousness. The importance of dreams is witnessed also in the extreme attention given to the dream of a child, acted out by the entire tribe, as recounted by Sioux shaman Black Elk.

The steady rise of science and rationalism in Western history seemed nearly to eclipse interest in dreams, which are so manifestly illogical. But toward the end of the nineteenth century scientists eventually began investigating dreams when French archivist Louis Maury (1817–1892) conducted several experiments, such as having his assistant hold a hot iron near his face while he slept, or perfume under his nose, and so on. Each time he noted specific dream imagery correlating well with the experimental actions, such as his dream of wandering through a Middle Eastern marketplace full of pungent smells when the perfume was held under his nose. These data led Maury to the conclusion that dreams are caused by somatic stimuli. His theory, a product of nineteenth-century scientific positivism, led to the notion that "dreaming is caused by indigestion."

A veritable revolution in dream analysis was introduced by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) in his landmark work of 1900, The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud suggested that such causal agents as Maury identified still cannot account for the elaborate imagery of the dream content. Why had Maury's dream placed him in a Middle Eastern bazaar and not in some other exotic environment, for example? Freud called dreams the "royal road to the unconscious" and thought they were produced by emotional factors. They function as a harmless release of built-up emotional tension. Dreams "protect sleep" by allowing an outlet for this turmoil. The dreamer's aggressive and sexual drives can be expressed harmlessly, since he or she is sound asleep and will not pose any danger to society.

The key mechanism at work in dreams, Freud thought, is wish fulfillment, and the dream is properly analyzed when one can identify the wish in question. He theorized that dreams bear a kinship with jokes and slips of the tongue, in that the same forbidden impulse that is hostile to society is allowed some measure of release. The joke, slip, or dream is a "compromise structure" in that only some degree of the full impulse is allowed expression. The dream is a "substitute" for the real desire, since the person only dreams about fulfilling it in place of actually doing so. The bizarre symbolism of dreams functions as a "disguise" to fool the conscious mind into thinking it has not really allowed a shameful impulse to come to expression. The apparent or "manifest content" of the dream disguises the real or "latent content," which carries the underlying wish.

Later studies have demonstrated the importance of dreaming to the psychic system. "Dream deprivation" experiments, carried out in the 1950s and 1960s by University of Chicago researcher William Dement, showed that in virtually 100 percent of test subjects, being deprived of dreaming (though still being allowed to sleep as long as they wanted) led to serious, even psychotic symptoms. These studies clearly show that dreams are tremendously important to maintaining psychological and physical health.

Possibly the greatest interest in dreams in contemporary research is shown by Jungian scholars. Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung (1875–1961) developed a complex theory in which dreams play a prominent role. His interest in dreams originated when he worked with psychotic patients early in his career. The grandiose visions and strange language these patients exhibited struck Jung as similar to the atmosphere of dreams. Surprised to find that the actual dreams of these psychotics were remarkably rational and uneventful, Jung developed his key theory of complementarity—that whatever is expressed on the outside, the opposite will be found on the inside. Rational people produce wildly illogical dreams, while the dreams of psychotic people appear to be rational. Psychotics are effectively in the dream state while awake.

Jung thought that psychoses and dreams appear to speak in the same "language": symbolism, the "native language" of the unconscious. Jung felt that symbols are multivalent—that is, carry many meanings—and that they are produced spontaneously by the unconscious to express profound realities that are ultimately ineffable—beyond description. Specific symbolic elements will appear commonly in dreams, such as the anima or animus, the complementary opposites to an individual's ego consciousness. A woman whose face is often obscured, appearing in a man's dream will represent his "anima," or female side. She will act as a psychopomp, or "soul guide," leading the dreamer into the vast treasure-house of the unconscious; and the reverse is true for the female dreamer. A dark or "savage" figure might represent the "shadow," the primal animal self within, as in a woman's dream of a boy she met at the edge of an Indian reservation. The boy invited her to come visit him whenever she wanted. As he ran off he turned into a wolf and slipped into the woods. This wolf-boy symbolizes the dreamer's animus, or masculine side, fused with her shadow, or healthy animal self—healthy because it appears as a natural animal at home in the wild place and who invites her interaction.

This shadow figure is in great contrast to that of a dream in which a dark man with a machine gun, who is as tall as the tallest buildings of the city, walks through town shooting at people randomly. The shadow figure of this dream exhibits Jung's concept of "inflation." Any repressed contents in the psychic system will gain great energy, inflate and distort, and act in a very menacing manner, as the savage "Mr. Hyde" does emerging from the meek "Dr. Jekyll." This indicates a terribly unhealthy "inflated" shadow, active in the whole collective consciousness in this dream, since the dark figure was threatening the whole city.

These are the sorts of markers Jungians look for in dreams. Jung posits two levels at work, the personal and collective, or "transpersonal." His signature theory of the "collective unconscious" was actually developed as an outgrowth of a dream in which he started on the top floor of a two-story house and continued down successive stairways deeper and deeper into the substructure. Any action of descending in dreams, Jung felt, symbolizes journeying into the unconscious, as does entering into bodies of water, or any dark place. Ascending would indicate moving toward higher consciousness. In Jung's dream, each successive layer of the house got older as he descended. He thought the dream represented a kind of structural diagram of the psyche, an ego consciousness at the top, undergirded by successively older layers containing the entire history and evolution of collective consciousness.

Certain "big" dreams, Jung thought, reveal mythic elements of profound transpersonal significance, as did one of his own earliest dreams. At age three he dreamed of an "underground god," an erect phallus on a golden throne, which, even at that age, he labeled the "underground Christ." This dream functioned in a "compensatory" way, representing the repressed sexual element denied Jesus and labeled "sinful" by church tradition. The dream "compensated" for these repressed contents, expressing the inflated "underground counterpart" to the church's Jesus, enthroned in a position of exaltation, representing sexuality itself in a sacred mode.

Dreams like this with powerful contents contain religious and mythic material. Alice's dream of falling down a hole into "Wonderland" (entering the unconscious) and Dorothy's dream of traveling to "Oz" represent the "hero's journey," the path of "individuation." Each element of Dorothy's dream bears important symbolic significance, from the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion, her animus figures, whom she encounters and incorporates; to Toto, her shadow/trickster spirit; to the Wicked Witch, the distorted collective shadow; and to the Wizard, the wise old man archetype, an image of the great or "realized" Self. A dream like this represents the concept of soul transformation, the journey toward psychic integration or wholeness, as at the end the Wizard chants "E pluribus unum," "the many brought into one." Like the journey to the Emerald City in the land of Oz, dreams, for Jung, altogether represent spontaneous products of the psychic system that function to make available to the dreamer the vast wealth held within the unconscious.

Jung drew a primary distinction between "big" dreams like Dorothy's and more ordinary or "little" dreams. Other researchers have added to this list. Some fourteen different types of dreams might be distinguished: (1) assimilation of daily experience dreams; (2) learning new tasks; (3) sensory stimulus; (4) wish fulfillment; (5) personal coping dreams; (6) anxiety dreams; (7) night terrors; (8) compensatory dreams; (9) repeating dreams; (10) prescient dreams, in which some specific dream content later happens in waking life; (11) lucid dreams, in which the dreamer is aware that he or she is dreaming; (12) archetypal or "big" dreams, often carrying collective contents; (13) karmic memory dreams; and (14) shamanic journeying.

See alsoArchetype; Black Elk; Journeysand Journeying; Meditation; Mysticism; Myth; Psychologyof Religion; Psychotherapy; Religious Experience; Shamanism; Trance.


Dement, William. "The Effect of Dream Deprivation." Science 131 (1960):1705–1707.

Dement, William. "Experimental Dream Studies." In Science and Psychoanalysis, edited by J. Masserman. 1964.

Diamond, Edwin. The Science of Dreams. 1963.

Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. 1972.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. 1900.

Jung, Carl G. Dreams. 1974.

Jung, Carl G. Man and His Symbols. 1964.

Jung, Carl G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. 1961.

Luck, Georg. Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in theGreek and Roman Worlds. 1985.

Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Storyof a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. 1959.

Tart, Charles, ed. Altered States of Consciousness. 1969.

White, R. J. The Interpretation of Dreams, the Oneirocriticaby Artemidorus. 1975.

Sharon L. Coggan


views updated May 23 2018



Dreaming is an episodic activity of the sleeping mind during which spontaneous sensory experiences occur that are perceived at the time as if real. Although dreaming is common, occurring in all humans, the dreams themselves are unique, based on each persons own memory bank of images, a residue of their particular life experiences. The meaning and purpose of dreaming has been a source of speculation over the course of history. It was not until 1900, when Sigmund Freud (18561939) published The Interpretation of Dreams, that there was a comprehensive theory that placed dreams as centrally important for the understanding of waking behavior. This theory formed the basis of the psychoanalytic treatment method, which relied on patients recall of and associations to their dreams.

Dream interpretation dominated the practice of psychiatry for the next fifty years. The key to their understanding rested on Freuds model of the mind as operating on three different levelsthe conscious, preconscious, and unconsciouswith all three influencing waking behavior. The conscious mind is what is in awareness in the moment; the preconscious consists of mental representations that, although not in immediate awareness, can be brought to consciousness voluntarily; the unconscious material, while not accessible by an act of will, is a major source of dream scenarios. The unconscious contains the remains of early childhood experiences related to learning to control basic impulses (particularly those of sex and aggression) and to express these only in a socially appropriate fashion. These powerful instinctual drives remain active throughout life and cause anxiety if they threaten to become conscious. They are controlled during waking by defenses, the learned ways of keeping them out of consciousness. These defenses are weakened during sleep, when the danger of a breakthrough into action, which would cause internal guilt or external punishment, is reduced due to our inability to act while sleeping.

Freud believed that dreams allow the mind to hallucinate the fulfillment of these prohibited impulses safely, without the risk of consequences. Because the risk, though lowered, is not completely absent during sleep, and to ensure that the sleeper is not shocked into wakefulness, dreams express these wishes in disguised forms. Thus, dreams require some expert interpretation to decode their true meaning. Freud distinguished the dream story, called the manifest dream, from its underlying or latent meaning, which refers to the unfulfilled instinctual wishes. The latent meanings can only be expressed symbolically to allow their safe gratification. The interpretation of dreams thus became the basis for understanding patients who came for help with emotional problems of overcontrol or undercontrol of their impulse-related behavior.

A challenge to this view followed the discovery in the 1950s of the close association of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and the experience of dreaming. By monitoring the brain waves, eye movements, and muscle tone of persons observed while sleeping in a laboratory, three to five episodes of REM sleep could be identified each night. If the sleeper were then awakened at these times and asked to report what he or she had just been experiencing, 85 percent of the time the sleeper would describe a dream. The regularity of REM sleep, occurring approximately every ninety minutes, allowed a more complete sampling of dreaming than had ever before been available. Many people have no recall of their dreams, and even those with good recall rarely remember more than one per night. The sleep laboratory technique opened the door to studies of the continuity of a theme from first dream to last, and of the relation of the dream content to some waking, emotion-arousing stimuli, such as a frightening or sexually arousing movie, or an experimentally induced change in a basic need, such as thirst by depriving sleepers of water beforehand. For the most part, these studies showed that dreams are difficult to influence and more often follow their own agenda.

The finding that REM sleep is turned on periodically, starting at the primitive brain structure called the pons, further challenged Freuds view. Dreams could not have any inherent meaning if they spring from the nonthinking pons. The activation-synthesis hypothesis of dreaming, proposed in 1977 by J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, explained the apparent (manifest) meaning of a dream as an afterthought, most likely resulting from associations to the sensory images, which are accidental, triggered by the activation of a brain pathway that flows upward from the pons to the visual association areas of the cortex. These images are then linked into a dream story under the influence of the ongoing emotional concerns of the dreamer. In this way dreams are given meaning in the same way as are waking stimuli, when what we see is colored by the present state of our needs and interests. This theory robbed dreams of any special meaning and had a generally dampening effect on dream research for the next twenty years.

The resurgence of interest in dreaming is partly due to the development of sleep disorder centers, which attract patients with dream disorders, such as the repetitive nightmares of those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. The resurgence of interest is also partly a result of the development of more sophisticated technology. Brain imaging methods allow a closer look into the areas of the brain activated when REM sleep is ongoing. Using this technology, differences between those areas that are more active in REM sleep than in non-REM sleep or waking confirm that during REM the brain is more intensely active in areas related to instinctual behaviors (hypothalamus and basal forebrain), the emotional areas (limbic and paralimbic), and the visual association areas of the cortex. Activity is lessened during REM in the areas associated with the executive functions: thinking and judgment (the prefrontal cortex).

Brain imaging studies are looking into differences between REM sleep in normal persons and in those with various psychiatric diagnoses. This method has illuminated the abnormality of REM sleep of those suffering from major depression. These patients, when most symptomatic, have increased REM sleep but greatly reduced recall of any dreaming. Their imaging studies show more activity in the emotional areas (limbic and paralimbic) than do nondepressed persons, and heightened activity in the executive cortex. Perhaps these patients are flooded with negative emotion but are overcontrolled in its expression. In Freuds terms, the dream function has failed to allow gratification of unconscious wishes. Without dreams these patients would be difficult to treat psychoanalytically and require another approach.

SEE ALSO Psychoanalytic Theory; Psychotherapy


Dement, William, and Nathaniel Kleitman. 1957. The Relation of Eye Movements During Sleep to Dream Activity: An Objective Method for the Study of Dreaming. Journal of Experimental Psychology 53: 339346.

Freud, Sigmund. [1900] 1955. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Basic Books.

Hobson, J. Allan, and Robert McCarley. 1977. The Brain as a Dream-State Generator: An Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis of the Dream Process. American Journal of Psychiatry 134: 13351348.

Mellman, Thomas, and Wilfred Pigeon. 2005. Dreams and Nightmares in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. In Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 4th ed., eds. Meir Kryger, Thomas Roth, and William Dement, 573578. Philadelphia: Elsevier.

Nofzinger, Eric. 2005. Neuroimaging and Sleep Medicine. Sleep Medicine Reviews 9 (3):157172.

Rosalind D. Cartwright


views updated May 21 2018


The dream, guardian of sleep, provides disguised satisfaction for wishes that are repressed while we are awake; dream interpretation is the "royal road that leads to knowledge of the unconscious in psychic life." Such, in highly condensed form, is Freud's theory as set forth in the founding work of psychoanalysis, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). As Freud himself pointed out, this was a revolutionary thesis.

The only scientists interested in dreams during the late nineteenth century were psychologists looking for "elements" of mental activity or psychiatrists interested in hysteria and hypnosis. All of them saw dreams as nothing more than degraded products of a weak and thus dissociated psyche. Freud's approach was a radical departure for he claimed that hysterical symptoms were the expression of "conflicts," and that dreams were the product of a "dream work." In both cases there was no weakening of psychic activity but quite the opposite, an intense activity driven by the opposition between wishes and psychic defense mechanisms. The radical nature of Freud's position was illuminated by his divergence from Josef Breuer, who saw hysteria as the product of "hypnoid states" brought on by a weakening of organizing mental activity and a concomitant decrease in what Pierre Janet called "mental tension" (Freud and Breuer, 1895d).

Freud conceived his theory of dreams very early. His exposure to the work of Charcot and later to that of Bernheim was undoubtedly a contributing factor. In 1892 he noted that many dreams "spin out further associations which have been rejected or broken off during the day. I have based on this fact the theory of 'hysterical counter-will' which embraces a good number of hysterical symptoms" (1892-94a, p. 138). ("Counter-will," meaning an opposition to the satisfaction of desire for moral reasons, was a conceptual forerunner of repression.) The "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c [1895]) introduced a number of ideas about dreams that were later expanded and refined.

Between 1897 and 1900 Freud, with moral support from his correspondent Wilhelm Fliess, conducted the self-analysis that gave birth to psychoanalysis. For the most part, that self-analysis drew on Freud's own dreams (Anzieu, 1975/1984), and in due course those same dreams supplied a large portion of the material of The Interpretation of Dreams.

Freud's dream theory may be summarized as follows:

  1. The dream expresses a wish unsatisfied during the waking state, whether because of a conscious objection or, more frequently, because of repression, in which case the wish is unrecognized. During sleep, the psychic apparatus finds its natural tendency, which is to reduce tension, that is, to experience pleasure. The dream, like hysterical symptoms, slips, parapraxes, and so on, is a sign of the return of the repressed. Freud went further still, claiming that every dream was the fulfillment of a wish, which obviously invites an objection about unpleasurable dreams and anxiety dreams. On several occasions Freud rebutted this objection, continuing to analyze such dreams until he isolated a wish behind distress or anxiety, which he claimed were merely expressions of resistance and conflict. Truth to tell, his argument was not always persuasive. On the basis of necessarily fragmentary material, it sometimes gave an impression of the ad hoc. Freud was able to overcome this difficulty only much later, when he introduced the repetition compulsion that lay "beyond the pleasure principle" (1920g).
  2. Two circumstances favor this return of the repressed. The first is the inhibition of perception and motricity during sleep, protecting the dreamer against the dangers of actual satisfaction. This results in a "topographical regression," that is, the excitation flows back unto the psyche and reinforces the dream-work. The second circumstance is that sleep weakens the censorship.
  3. A measure of censorship remains, however, and often allows satisfaction of a disguised kind only. This is the function of the "dream-work." This work employs the mechanisms of condensation and displacement (primary processes) before proceeding to generate images (representability). Then, by means of secondary revision, the "dream façade" is improved to provide a plausible meaning; i.e., the manifest content of the dream, which is quite different from the underlying meaning, that of the "latent dream-thoughts." The dream work is a form of thinking, but its rules are very different from those that prevail in the logical thought of the waking state: dreams know nothing of contradiction.
  4. The dream thus provides an outlet for libidinal pressure. It is the "guardian of sleep" since, without its intervention, the pressure would awaken the dreamer.
  5. The dream's raw materials are "day's residues" (events, thoughts, or affects from the recent past) and physical sensations that occur during sleep. But its "real" content is reactivated infantile memories, especially those of an oedipal kind: the dream is a regression to an infantile state.

These tenets underpin dream interpretation, whose aim is to render meaningful elements in the dream's manifest content (to restore their latent meaning), on the basis of the dreamer's associations. Freud insisted that any "key to dreams," that is, any list of symbolic equivalents of supposedly general value, be excluded. He did, however, recognize some universal "symbols," transmitted by culture, and some "typical dreams" to be met with in many dreamers (dreams of nudity, for example).

Roger Perron

See also: Action-(re)presentation; Agency; Alpha function; Anticathexis/counter-cathexis; Beta-elements; Beyond the Pleasure Principle ; Breton, André; Censorship; Certainty; "Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest"; Compromise formation; Condensation; Contradiction; Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva" ; Subject's desire; Directed daydream (R. Desoille); Displacement; Dream and Myth; Dream interpretation; Dream's navel, the; Convenience, dream of; Nakedness, dream of; "Dream of the Wise Baby;" Dream screen; Dream symbolism; Dream work; Ego ideal; Ego states; Forgetting; Formations of the unconscious; Functional phenomenon; Hypocritical dream; Hysteria; Infantile, the; Inferiority, feeling of; Interpretation of Dreams, The ; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; Isakower phenomenon, Jokes; Latent; Latent dream thoughts; Letter, the; Logic(s); Manifest; Metaphor; "Metapsychologic Supplement to the Theory of Dreams"; Metonymy; Mnemic trace/memory trace; Mourning, dream of; Myth; Myth of the Birth of the Hero, The ; Narcissistic withdrawal; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; Nightmare; Night terrors; Oedipus complex; On Dreams ; Overdetermination; Primal scene; Primary process/secondary process; "Project for a Scientific Psychology, A"; Psychic reality; Psychic temporality; Psychoanalysis of Dreams; Punishment, dream of; Purposive idea; Reality testing; Regression; Repetition; Repetitive dreams; Representability; Representation of affect; Reversal into the opposite; Reverie; Schiller and psychoanalysis; Screen memory; Secondary revision; Secret; Self-state dream; Somnambulism; Substitutive formation; Surrealism and psychoanalysis; Telepathy; Thing-presentation; Thought; time; Training analysis; Trauma; Typical dreams; Unconscious, the; Wish/yearning; Wish fulfillment; Wish, hallucinatory satisfaction of a; Work (as a psychoanalytical notion).


Anzieu, Didier. (1984). The group and the unconscious. (Benjamin Kilborne, Trans.). London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Original work published 1975)

Diatkine, René. (1974). Rêve, illusion et connaissance. (Rap-port). Réponse aux interventions. 1107-1108. Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, 38 (5-6), 769-820. P.L.R. Congrès XXXIV "Le rêve." Madrid, 1974.

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The Interpretation of Dreams. SE, 4-5.

. (1892-94a). Preface and footnotes to the translation of Charcot's "Tuesday Lectures." SE 1: 129-144.

. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.

. (1950c [1895]). Project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387.

Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.

Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand. (1981). Frontiers in psychoanalysis: between the dream and psychic pain. (Catherine Cullen and Philip Cullen, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. (Original work published 1977)

Further Reading

Blum, Harold P. (2000). The writing and interpretation of dreams. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 17, 651-666.

Lansky, Melvin R. (Ed. ). (1992). Essential papers on dreams. New York: New York University Press.

Lewin, Betram. (1955). Dream psychology and the analytic situation. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 24, 169-199.

Reiser, Morton. (1997). The art and science of dream interpretation: Isakower revisited. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45.

Solms, Mark. (1995). New findings on the neurological organization of dreaming: Implications for psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 64, 43-67.